Wind River (2017)
The vengeance thriller genre has always been popular because its core emotion is universal and forgiveness has human limits. There are many ways to translate this theme to film and most involve ‘eye for an eye’ violence which is the narrative heart of Wind River (2017). The stand out feature of this film lies in the way it deploys stunning cinematography to tell a reality-based story with rising tension and emotional depth.
While protecting livestock from wolves in the snow-covered Wyoming mountains, wildlife hunter Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) discovers the frozen body of a barefoot 18-year old girl. The crime scene is on Indian Reservation land and beyond local jurisdiction so rookie FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is sent to investigate. Her inexperience is quickly obvious and she calls on Lambert’s hunting skills and knowledge of the Mountain ranges. The investigation unfolds amidst deep distrust that locals have for outsiders and Lambert’s grief over the recent loss of his own daughter. His connection with the Indian parents of the missing girl adds a culturally sensitive and emotional layer to what would otherwise be just an action-based thriller.
There is little in this story that would earn praise for originality. Its pace is unhurried and the central characters are stereotypes that we have seen before. But it is outstanding in the way the majestic mountain-scapes are integrated into the storytelling through breathtaking panoramic aerial photography. Treacherous weather and the effects of sub-zero temperatures on the human body add to the hidden dangers and the impoverishment of life on native American Reservations. Lambert and Olsen are well-cast as two conflicted loners, giving character performances that drive the film without grandstanding. Dialogue is minimalist as you might expect in an isolated mountain community and a female FBI agent is not going to change that. While shootouts are obligatory in this genre, the violence is swift and essential to the narrative. The film’s suspense curve maintains audience engagement until justice and vengeance are served.
While this film comes with little fanfare, it has solid storytelling, exciting visuals, and well-crafted acting. It also has a subdued political theme not fully evident until the sobering on-screen end-credits message that, even today, no data is collected on the number of American Indian women reported missing. This disturbing insight into the status of today’s native American population is balanced by the positive feminist message that is portrayed in a young female heroine using her wits without the hyper-violence seen in so many recent releases.
Director: Taylor Sheridan
Stars: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Kelsey Asbille, Julia Jones