My initial thoughts on Wind River were “this is bloody brilliant”. And as time has gone on, my thoughts have gone to “that was really, really bloody brilliant”.
Wind River is the new film from writer/director Taylor Sheridan, whose previous work includes cinematic greats Sicario and Hell or High Water, both of which are parts of his ‘thematic American Frontier trilogy’, with Wind River being the final instalment. It’s story centres around the discovery of a dead woman’s body on a Native American reservation in Wyoming by a local animal hunter. Together he, the native Tribal Police Chief and a sole FBI agent called to assist investigate the suspected homicide in the Wind River Reservation.
I love how simply complex these characters are. It may sound oxymoronic but these ease in which these characters are presented in totally none obvious ways should be enviable to all filmmakers. It’s an absolute triumph from Sheridan, (though it’s no different from his past films), and it’s also a triumph from the actors.
Jeremy Renner is in the lead as Cory, a local animal hunter with the Fish and Wildlife Service with family ties to the reservation. He has suffered loss and trauma in his life that he will likely never get answers to, but he gets on quietly and respectably hiding that never healing hurt underneath for the sake of his son really.
He has motivation behind him aiding in the investigation, but not in a foolish way at all. At the end of the day, Cory want’s justice to be served for all so that other’s don’t have to experience what he has.
The FBI agent called to the scene is Jane Banner, a young yet un-naive woman who I think is majorly underestimated. She has a tremendous amount of life saving gut instinct and emotional intelligence, as well as massive commitment to solving her cases. Elizabeth Olsen is at her best here, brilliantly showcasing the different depths of this woman who quite frankly, I have a big crush on. She’s so cool, but in a really cute, natural way.
The third musketeer working the case is Ben, the Tribal Police Chief for the reservation. He is a committed man who continues to strive for the best in his job with full knowledge that there are so many federal loopholes that make it almost impossible. He takes life as it is and Graham Greene plays that all so effortlessly.
A minor, but fantastic character comes in the form of Martin, the father of the dead woman. This is the best that I have ever seen Gil Birmingham. He will tear you to pieces and build you right back up again in one scene; that’s how powerful this performance is. Honestly, the film is worth watching for his small parts alone, and it’s a few select moments that will stick out for me for a while.
I also can’t not talk about Kelsey Asbille, who is the hidden gem in this film. Her character, Natalie, is basically the main character and the one the story centres around, yet she isn’t in it physically much at all. However small her role is, her two scenes have you totally captivated and unable to take your eyes off her.
There’s a whole plethora of other characters surrounding these ones, all of which are brilliantly well-rounded to provide a surprising amount of depth to the film.
The way this story is told is where it’s brilliance lies. It’s a cleverly woven thriller, that feeds you pieces without withholding information, letting the story unravel naturally as the film progresses. I can say with complete honesty that I could not guess what was going to happen next at any given point in the film. Every moment is fresh and un-obvious, making it a really exciting piece of cinema.
It doesn’t spell anything out for you, instead drops the puzzle pieces in strategic places so you can gather the story as you go. It’s refreshing to be treated as an audience in this way; without assumption that you won’t get it.
There is one particular transition which I think is absolute genius, and is something I’m so mad I didn’t think of. The whole film I was waiting for a flashback, yet was unsure of how it would fit in with the way the story was being told. But it is pieced in so perfectly that I was close to air punching. It’s a cinematic move that makes you love films, and those are rare to come by these days.
Now – that scene.
I’d been warned by others that it was in the film, and in total honesty it did nearly make me reconsider if I even wanted to see the film.
Often, rape is fetishised in film. It’s true, I’m saying it. It’s filmed in artsy ways and the perpetrator isn’t always depicted as a rapist scumbag afterwards, instead a ‘twisted soul’ or some bullshit. Think 2002’s Irréversible, or the ‘iconic’ Last Tango in Paris – the latter of which was actual, real sexual abuse by the way.
The way Wind River depicts it is not like those films. The actual act is over quickly, and it is portrayed completely in an evil light, as the most evil act. It is over quickly, and is horrible and vicious without being overbearable. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I felt like it was done honourably, as if it were a a testament to victims.
On to a literally lighter subject, let’s talk about that cinematography. For a film shot mostly against the vast plain white backdrops of a snowy Wyoming, there is a beautiful amount of physical depth to the shots.
That paired with a gorgeous score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis makes this film living art.
The chilling thing is, the film is based on actual events.
Whilst filming, Shoshone tribal leaders met with Taylor Sheridan and stunned him with the revelation that currently there were twelve unsolved murders of young women, on a reservation of about six thousand people.
The film does highlight the difficulty of getting anywhere with solving cases in Native American reservations. It’s true that, due to a 1978 landmark government ruling the Supreme Court stripped tribes of the right to arrest and prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes on Indian land.
It’s very confusing, but this ruling dictates that if neither victim nor perpetrator are Indian, a county or state officer must make the arrest. If the perpetrator is non-Indian and the victim an enrolled member, only a federally-certified agent has that right. If the opposite is true, a tribal officer can make the arrest, but the case must still go to federal court.
These specifications and loopholes mean that many criminals go unpunished for crimes as serious as murder, simply because the legal process is unobtainable. It’s because of this that so many victims are left without justice, and why it continues to be a mass problem these tribes can do nothing about.
So thank you to Wind River, for enlightening me about these issue in such a beautiful, brilliant way. You are a film I will not be forgetting for a long while.
Wind River is in cinemas now.