- Directed by Taylor Sheridan
- Starring Elizabeth Olson, Jeremy Renner, Graham Greene
- Written by Taylor Sheridan
- Rated R
- 107 mins
- 18 August 2017
Wind River tells the story of Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a predator hunter, being enlisted by an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen), Jane Banner, to track a different type of predator in the snow after he finds a Native American girl dead in the wilderness on the Wind River reservation.
How’s the Story?
Going into this movie, I was really anxious about how this story would be handled. The story of a Native girl raped and murdered on a reservation is, horrifically, nothing new or, even more horrifically, unexpected. It isn’t even the first time I’ve seen this issue tackled in fiction, since an entire story line for a whole season of Longmire was about a girl who was raped by white men and the tribal police could do nothing about it and the state police couldn’t do anything about it all because of jurisdiction.
So, yeah, I was very worried going in, and what I ended up seeing unfold on the screen in front of me was something so respectfully handled for how upsetting a premise as this is. The way this story focused on not making anybody out to be the White Savior and didn’t reduce the whole thing into a gun-slinging action movie – though there is no lack of guns – is something I really, really admire.
How’s the Acting?
The acting in this film is fucking fantastic. I usually withhold F-bombs on this site, but the performances in this movie deserve it. Holy crap, I’ve seen Jeremy Renner in all manner of films, and I have known he was tremendously talented since Neo Ned in like 2005, but his performance in this movie is astonishing. I know it’s too much to hope for an Oscar nomination, but holy hell, he deserves it.
The same claim can be made about Elizabeth Olsen, too. I’ve seen her only in Marvel movies, so I don’t have that much experience with her skill, but this one was one for the talent reel for her. This character had the potential to be over-played but she did it well, kept it reeled in. It was just a very solid performance and I’m beyond pleased.
How’s the Writing/Directing?
I have a hilarious anecdote for this section: I didn’t know much about this movie going in, so I had no idea who the director was or what else he was attached to. When I finished this film, one of the first things I texted a friend was, “You know, this movie felt very much like Hell or High Water in some ways!” as a praise, since Hell or High Water was one of my very favorite movies of last year and the last 5 years, really.
…. low and behold, my friend goes, “Chelsea, you moron, the director and writer of this movie wrote Hell or High Water” which explains it!
Anyways, this movie is written with so much tact and delicacy that I genuinely am surprised. Put it this way: I almost NEVER watch something, no matter how highly praised, if I know there is going to be a rape scene. I was SO reluctant to see this one, because I just knew I would get a bitter taste in my mouth because we get a flashback of the actual night the victim was raped. I’m of the school of thought that any rape should be off screen, full stop. I was actually annoyed that I was going to have to sit through a rape scene on screen.
What actually was on the screen, however, was the LEAST gratuitous rape scene of all time and I actually think it was necessary for this film. This is getting into a little bit of spoilers, but I’m going to share in case someone else is reluctant to go see this movie because of the inclusion of an on screen rape: The only thing the camera shows of the rape happening is the victim’s face and we’re given ONLY per point of view in the entire scene. The rapists never has any chance to show their power to us the viewers, because for the very, very short time the rape is happening for us to see, all that matters is the victim.
It is the most respectfully handled, least gratuitous rape scene to ever exist, and while I still hated watching it, it was because it happened in the story and I knew what happened next, not because it was on the screen.
That is only an example of how well handled this film’s writing and direction is. And for me, that’s the best example one could ever give.
How’s the Cinematography?
Everybody who has known me for a while or read my reviews for a while knows that I’m a big fan of open, bleak, big outdoor settings in film. The shots made possible by the wilderness and wasteland is just a theme I enjoy when it comes to cinematography.
This movie is everything I could want in landscape shots, and more than that, it utilizes one of my very favorite film techniques: handheld camera. While we all hate the action movie ‘shaky cam’, nothing beats the REALNESS of handheld. There is something about handheld that you don’t even realize is handheld unless you’re into film-making to make something seem real and raw and this movie does it well. There are these shots where the camera is still on someone’s face up close, and it is held crazy steady, but still you can tell it is handheld because you get this feeling like you are sitting there and watching this person from 6 inches away.
It’s tiny tricks like that that make a movie like this tick from ‘good’ to ‘great’.
Is It Worth Watching?
Wind River is the best drama I’ve seen all year. Full stop. However, my recommendation of this film comes with a caveat: however hard to watch you think it might be, it really is that hard, if not more. I have a feeling that anybody who has ever been sexually assaulted/abused in any way will have the worst trauma dragged up watching this. I’ve never been hurt that way and my reaction was still so visceral that I cried several times watching this movie. The same goes for anybody with children, because the theme of stolen family is crushingly pervasive in this movie.
It’s just a hard movie to watch.
That said, it’s so respectful, magnificently written, expertly directed, mindblowingly fan-fucking-tastically acted, and shot just perfectly. I love this movie. I don’t know if I can ever watch it again, but it’s absolutely going to end up being top 5 films of 2017 for me, and 2017 still has 4 months left. This movie is something so painful yet cathartic for me as a woman with native ancestry to watch. I’m not Native American. I don’t claim to be. I’m more white than anything else. However, I have great-grandparents on both sides who were Native: one great grandmother who was descended from the few Eastern Cherokee who survived the Trail of Tears, and a great-grandfather who came here from a reservation in Oklahoma after World War 1. Because of this, I’m white but with the familial stories of life for my great grandparents passed down over the years that makes this feel personal.
The way Native Americans were treated in the past is something we all know is horrendous, but this story is one that is excessively common in the modern day and so many of us don’t know it happens. The immense poverty and inherent crime and hopelessness that is extrinsic to said poverty that affects Native Americans still into the 21st century is something that so many people don’t know about. The way that tribal police on reservation land are limited in what they can and can’t do and the jurisdictional restrictions on state police because reservations are federal land makes it so that white people can come onto reservation land, do basically anything but murder a Native American, and get away with it. The FBI doesn’t get involved until there is a murder most of the time, so girls being raped just like what happens in this movie is so disgustingly common that it sickens me to my very core.
This movie existing is, to me, a minor victory. It’s just a movie, but movies reach audiences that may not have previously known about certain events. I want these things to be known. I want people to all understand these things happen. The way this movie handles conveying that helplessness and almost expectant acceptance by the people in the family and in the community really does get across how depressingly prevalent these sorts of crimes are in a way that I really think will open some eyes to the way we still treat Native Americans in 2017.
I am actually grateful to whoever made this film come into existence. That’s how highly I recommend this movie to those who are able to handle such terrible themes. I drove 80 miles to see this movie since that was the nearest screening, and I don’t regret a single dollar I spent to watch this film.
I almost want to give this movie a 10/10 but I feel like only seeing it once makes that kind of hard to justify. I may come back later and change this rating after I view this movie a second time (if I ever do). But for now, I have to err on the side of caution.
Amended 11/12/17: I watched this movie again. It’s getting that 10/10. So perfect.
My Rating: 10/10