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February 12, 2018

Wind River

by Franz Patrick


Wind River (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

While not the most exciting mystery-thriller, “Wind River” excels in mood and atmosphere, successfully capturing the essence of how it might be like to live in an Indian reservation in Wyoming during the dead of winter. It is for the patient, detail-oriented audience. Those willing to look closer are rewarded with a specific experience. Credit goes to writer-director Taylor Sheridan for choosing not to make the material so pedestrian that the mystique is diluted to the point where an otherwise intriguing story becomes dull, just another case-of-the-week to be solved and then forgotten.

The case involves a possible murder of an eighteen-year-old Native American (Kelsey Asbille) whose frozen body is found by Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), an experienced tracker for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Due to the nature and location of the potential crime, Special Agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is sent by the FBI to assess the scene and determine whether a murder, in fact, had been committed. But Banner must swim upstream because Wind River, as a community, has rules of its own and a unique idea of justice, too. Not everyone is impressed simply because one has a badge.

Although a mystery-thriller in its core, the screenplay provides plenty of attention when it comes to the partnership between the tracker and the outsider. For a while, admittedly, I found the manner in which Banner is written to be off-putting, distracting at times. Clearly lacking in experience, especially in snowy terrain, there is such a great imbalance in the supposed partnership that I felt Banner needed Lambert more than he needed her. In movies like this, I tend to weigh the reasons why the partnership works and what characteristics either person are able to bring to the table so that they are able to reach logical conclusions.

Eventually, however, details about Lambert’s past is revealed, involving a family tragedy of his own, that slowly it begins to make sense as to why he is so patient with the rookie FBI agent. In a way, it communicates that perhaps we, too, should be more patient with Banner. As the material unfolds, particularly during the latter half, we start to see why the pair is a solid match despite Banner remaining green. The more I thought about it, the more I enjoyed the dynamics because most films within the genre tend to make or create an impression that the partnership equal. This time, and upon closer inspection, Lambert and Banner’s inequality itself makes the dynamics interesting.

The cinematography is also a standout. There are numerous shots of the land being blanketed by snow which serve as punctuations between moments of puzzle pieces being put in their rightful places. These images provide an overall feeling that although the reservation has its beauty, it also has something foreboding and a certain unwelcoming feeling about it. I enjoyed that some similarities are drawn between the reservation and the outside world. For example, the level of brutality in terms of crimes committed and how family members, in their own way, respond to devastating news regarding their deceased loved ones. There is no one correct way to mourn.

“Wind River” may unfold slowly and the tone is rather languid. Clearly, it is not for the common public consumption. But I argue that because of this approach coupled with an intelligent script and solid performances, the film offers a transportive experience. At one point, I caught myself feeling cold because the camera is so willing to transfix on certain images like the snowy mountains, how domesticated animals gather together when hungry predators are around, the hardened ice around the mutilated corpse being cut with a chainsaw. Peer closer and appreciate the level of imagination within a seemingly conventional crime-thriller.

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