WIND RIVER is far from happy camping, but it does a superb job of telling a gripping story, riven with multiple tragedies. It works as a taut acting vehicle for its cast, as a sober murder mystery in an unusual and compelling setting, as a sad and needed social comment, and as a painful but satisfying application of catharsis when some measure of justice is done. *
Tracking a mountain lion in the winter landscape of Wyoming’s Wind River Indian Reservation, U.S. Fish & Wildlife agent ‘Cory Lambert’ (Jeremy Renner) finds the savaged body of a young Arapaho woman, frozen in the snow. Signs point to rape and possible homicide, and freshman FBI agent ‘Jane Banner’ (Elizabeth Olsen) joins Booker and tribal police chief ‘Ben Shoyo’ (Graham Greene) in solving the case. For Shoyo, it’s another sad fact of life & death on the res. For the out-of-her-element Banner, it’s a harsh education. For Booker, it’s personal, both as duty to his friend, the girl’s father (Gil Birmingham), and because Booker had also lost his own daughter, in an unsolved manner.
Reviews were strong, and many film societies and festivals put it up for prizes. Though it only tagged 101st place among the years releases, it still managed, with a trim $11,000,000 budget, to be more than comfortable grossing $44,998,000, and in racking up a further $6,330,000 via disc sales.
Fresh from praise over his scripts for the top notch modern westerns Sicario and Hell Or High Water, Taylor Sheridan wrote & directed an intense, quietly emotional, ultimately haunting thriller, highlighted by terse naturalism in the strong performances, and a vivid burst of action in the best-staged shootout scene since Open Range. Renner and Olsen are particularly good.
Captured by cameraman Ben Richardson, the snow-blanketed landscapes—rugged, foreboding and beautiful—act as a crucial supporting character, the unnerving juxtaposition of the expansive mountains and their claustrophobic seasonal conditions compliment the sense of the reservations placement and predicament; hidden and shameful neglect in a nation of flaunted excess. Some filming was done in Wyoming, but most was handled in Utah, including the higher level mountain shots.
107 minutes, with Kelsey Chow, Julia Jones, Martin Sensmeier, Jon Bernthal, James Jordan, Hugh Dillon, Apesanahkwat, Eric Lange.
* 2017 saw a slate of quality crime flicks: Baby Driver, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, American Made, All The Money In The World and Molly’s Game.
Sheridan, in an NPR interview: “This issue with sexual assault against women on the reservation – I mean, it’s existed since the inception of a reservation system. But, really, in the past 15, 20 years, it’s exploded. And it gets no attention, which is the motivation for writing the film.”
Shared by Shoshones and Arapahos, the reservation at Wind River endures a crime rate six times the national average. Unemployment is higher than 80 percent. Life expectancy is 49 years. Fifty miles away is Jackson Hole in Teton County, one of the nation’s richest.