Wind River Movie Review

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Taylor Sheridan’s newest mystery film features performances by Elizabeth Olsen (left) and Jeremy Renner (right).

Gloria Han, Maroon-News Staff

Colgate students know first-hand what it’s like to experience the face-numbing cold and knee-deep snow of an Upstate New York winter. So be prepared for some scenery about as white and cold as Wyoming come winter time.

Directed and written by Taylor Sheridan, Wind River functions as both a mystery and thriller similar to Sheridan’s previous works, Sicario and Hell or High Water. Though these two movies differed in topics and settings, they were distinguished by their strongly developed characters, well-paced excitement and bleak tone. Wind River is no exception.

The story revolves around the suspected homicide of a Native American teenage girl, who we see desperately running through the deep snow at night in the first scene of the movie. Her frozen and violated body is discovered by the protagonist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Agent Corey Lambert (Jeremy Renner). The FBI assigns the case to ill-prepared Agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), who teams up with Lambert and relies on his knowledge of the land and people to guide her. Filled with suspense and heart-pounding action, Wind River  is also a human story about loss, bitter survival and brutality. 

The land of the reservation appears repeatedly as a motif that emphasizes the U.S. government’s neglect of Native Americans’ well-being. The beauty of the white blankets of snow contrasts heavily with the land’s cruelty, and sequences moving through the land are accompanied by ominous music. The land’s unsustainability and coldness not only drive inhabitants to desperate measures, but literally kill them. The film also  brings the chilling reality of Native American reservations to light. 

According to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service 2016 Report titled “Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and Men,” 56.1 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced sexual violence at some point in their life. The film highlights the horrors of this reality and comments on how the criminal justice system has excluded Native American populations due to bureaucratic lines.

Sheridan proves himself as a capable director of a sharp script, but the film’s success also comes from an excellent cast. Renner is subtle but impactful as a gritty hunter who exercises empathy while desiring vengeance for the death of his daughter. Olsen shines as a young agent determined to see her case to the end. Gil Birmingham is overwhelmingly real and heartbreaking in his portrayal of a grieving father. The actors’ raw performances allow the audience to immerse themselves in the plot.

The resolution may give viewers mixed feelings. It is certainly unexpected and cleanly ties up the plot, but is told rather abruptly. In a way, the story ends up not seeming like much of a mystery at all. However, despite this one possible detractor, Wind River never fails to engage and is undoubtedly worth watching. Sheridan himself is also a name worth remembering; in this movie, he cements himself as a great filmmaker with a bright future. 

While no one wants to be reminded of the never-ending winter season, Sheridan’s Wind River is a movie for anyone browsing for something smart, profound and unique. 

You can watch Wind River and other movies at the local Hamilton Movie Theater.

Contact Gloria Han at [email protected]