Wind River (2017) Review
Wind River is directed and written by Taylor Sheridan and is the conclusion to his "American Frontier" trilogy (Sicario, Hell or High Water). The film stars Jeremy Renner (The Avengers, Arrival) and Elizabeth Olsen (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Godzilla). "An FBI agent teams with a town's veteran game tracker to investigate a murder that occurred on a Native American reservation". Sicario and Hell or High Water were both critical gems, with the former reaching the top of my year-end 2015 list. Can Wind River follow suit?
Wind River was this month's film for #OdeonScreenUnseen. Out of all the contenders, Wind River seemed the most likely but I kind of hoped it would be something else. However, I am so pleased that it ended up being Wind River because it was a truly breath-taking film. The narrative is heavy, the tone is dark and the message is powerful. Wind River is everything that it needs to be and I think it concludes the loosely connected trilogy well.
At the heart of Wind River's success is its script. Written by Taylor Sheridan, who also directed the film. The script is incredibly well thought out with plenty of subtle hints and foreshadowing that make lots of sense in retrospect. Wind River's pace is also spot on, it may be a little slow for some but I think it moved at a very careful and suitable pace. This is a serious issue being tackled so to go super fast and turn it into an on-the-edge-of-your-seat thriller would be in bad taste. I found the film to be quite poetic- the dialogue was written eloquently and some of the lines in particular were pretty beautiful. Sheridan received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay for Hell or High Water and I definitely think he deserves another one for Wind River. It's rare to see a script so well thought out that knows exactly where its going, brings appropriately developed characters along the way and manages to remain engaging from start to finish. Wind River's is all of those things. Sicario was a film that had to be really engrossed to appreciate it fully and I think Wind River is the same. This film deserves all of your attention and you will be thankful you gave it your time when it comes to the end.
The mystery element was a good hook. What I like about mysteries in general is the looming excitement that everything will be revealed at the end- they are always the best moments in this type of film and Wind River is certainly no exception. So what happened to Natalie? How did she end up over 5 miles from the nearest house? Why was she barefoot? Even though the audience don't get a chance to become connected to Natalie prior to her death, the film certainly makes the effort to get you to care about her. Whether that be from discomforting scenes involving her grieving family or by revealing the horrific thing that actually happened to her. There's always a sense of mystery and enigma throughout the film but there was some moments that bursted with tension. The first comes when the team are looking for Natalie's brother and her brother's friends do not react well to this. Due to the prior development (Jane doesn't come off as incredibly experienced), it feels like the characters are in genuine danger. Everything was spot on- the camerawork, acting and music all helped for a pretty tense few minutes. The moment Jane finds out she is not alone in the caravan was also excellently executed as it seems like she has scouted the whole room until she peers around a final corner and there is the adversary, armed and loaded. This was not only an effective jump scare but a great pay off to a nerve-wracking sequence.
The next big burst of tension lasted much longer, pretty much the whole final act in fact. This began when the two different teams of security (police and drill security workers) started to get agitated and nervous of each other. A police offer is sure he saw something suspicious but neither the audience or Jane are aware of what he meant. Jane then knocks on the caravan door to where Natalie's boyfriend lived. With a genius creative choice, the scene match cuts to her boyfriend opening the door to Natalie. This was such a clever choice and was perfect timing for everything to be revealed. At first there's not much going on but because we are already aware of the fatal conclusion, there is a sense of dread that lingers over the scene. Then in stumbles the drunk, Pete. Everything goes down hill from there with some horrific imagery that's incredibly discomforting and upsetting to watch. Then the film cuts back to present day and there's no answer at the door. The drill security offer calls Pete via radio and then suddenly a gunshot goes through the door and into Jane's chest, luckily she's wearing a bullet-proof vest. This moment was shocking and brutal and showed how dangerous this man was. From then onwards, it's a shootout between the two different teams which ends with Cory (Renner) taking the opposition out from afar. However, Pete gets away. Cory finds him and knocks him out where he awakes on a high mountain. Cory then gets the truth out of Pete and 'sets him free'- however, after knowing how Natalie actually died, we know that Pete's lungs will likely burst at any moment due to the cold. Cory's dialogue in this scene especially are brilliant and I liked how Pete saw the same ending that Natalie had to suffer because of him. I'm aware this section was very descriptive but I wanted to highlight how well done the third act was. From the reveal to how it ended, everything came full circle and it was really satisfying despite being shocking and discomforting. The only issue I had was that I would have liked for Pete to have been introduced as a character earlier on so it wasn't just a random, new character that was revealed. This would have added a better level of surprise to the climax. The tension is always in the background throughout Wind River but when it wants to up the anti, it really does go there.
The two leads in Wind River are polar opposites but it really works. Firstly, Jeremy Renner's Cory. It's not quite clear why Cory wants to be so involved in the case until it's revealed that Cory's daughter was mysteriously murdered a few years back and she was good friends with Natalie. Cory almost wants to get the closure for Natalie's family that he was never able to have. I'm sure there's a hint of revenge at play as well. I thought his character was also cleverly written as his job was a hunter so he was the perfect guy to help find a criminal. It also meant he could use more streetwise skills than the FBI's protocol. On the other hand, there's Jane who doesn't come across as the most experienced member of the FBI but she's still headstrong and wants to get the job done. I think it was also a smart creative choice to make the character female as it gave the film the chance to highlight the prejudgements that women often get in this career but then it was also able to defeat those prejudgements when Jane knew exactly what she was doing and ultimately, was able to solve the case. Like any job, a role in the FBI is gender fluid. The age and gender of Jane also helped the character to relate to Natalie- she could think logically and after all, she does suggest early on that the boyfriend could have something to do with it. What's important though is that neither Cory or Jane are perfect, neither would have been able to solve the case alone but together, they could. The two were exchanging information and both respected each other. I don't know whether I liked that a romantic element was added in one of the final scenes as it took away the fact that men and women can work together without love being a factor. However, both are well developed characters that have their imperfections which aids in making them feel all the more real.
To do those two lead characters justice, a pair of talented actors would be needed to bring them to life. That's where Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen come in. I have to say, it was refreshing to see both actors in such different roles. I was impressed by Renner who played the stone cold Cory- he fit the role like a glove. I was a fan. Elizabeth Olsen heightened the film when she first came on screen. I thought her performance was good but not amazing. She had some moments where she could have expressed more emotion and her line delivery was sometimes a little off. However, her reactions to horrific things and expressing pain were spot on. Olsen shines when she stands up to all of the officers and security and makes it clear that she is the FBI and the only one with actually any power. This was a highlight in her performance. Her final scene was also very good. Renner and Olsen weren't required to have great chemistry but I think they both had a believable colleague-esque relationship. Even though Olsen's performance had more flaws than Renner, I think it helped to underline that her character was very real with imperfections just like anybody else. All of the supporting cast did a nice job but then again, there wasn't too much required of them. Finally, James Jordan who played Pete. Visually, Jordan looked like the creepy drunk that his character was. However, I wasn't quite on board with Jordan's performance whenever he actually spoke. His role was very crucial and some of his most important line's seemed forced and exaggerated, definitely not as realistic as the other performance. I think Jordan's performance belonged in a completely different film. Luckily, the character of Pete was written and portrayed in such a strong way that the performance didn't matter all that much.
Outside of the script, technically, the film was very well done. The cinematography really showcased a side of America that is rarely portrayed in film. The colour palette was very bleak and washed out but I think the aesthetic of the film really matched the location. There were some really picturesque shots of the snowy mountains especially towards the end. Cinemas may not be thankful for how white and snowy Wind River is as it heightens how dirty the screens are...Shout out to Ben Richardson whose cinematography makes such a plain landscape so beautiful to look at. The score was also very well done, there were some moments where it really shined. The score did exactly what a score should do- it heightened the mood, tone and themes that were intended in each scene. I haven't noticed Ellis and Cave's work until now but they certainly did a noticeably good job with Wind River's score. Some scenes were all the more emotional because of it.
So as I said, Wind River is quite a deep and heavy film. The message its trying to get out there is that there is a statistic for most missing people except for Native American women. Nobody knows how many are missing. This is incredibly shocking and devastating. The case portrayed in Wind River probably isn't that rare but unfortunately, the real life cases are probably not even noticed or looked into. The culture in this part of America seems pretty unsafe for young women as such occurrences are so common. Hopefully after this film, a change is made and Native American women are tracked and the FBI and other services do keep a closer eye on this. If anything, the culture portrayed in this film is pretty backwards and needs to change, especially when it comes to the treatment of women. Also, this is the conclusion in Sheridan's 'American Frontier' trilogy. I've only seen Sicario and Wind River but from both films, I get that the gist of the trilogy is showcasing parts of American culture that are usually ignored in films and shining a light on issues and unearthing what is really going on. I definitely want to see Hell or High Water to see if I'm correct.
Wind River is a pretty spectacular film. Sheridan may just be one of the most talented writers working in Hollywood today and for this to be only his second film he has directed, it just shows how much talent this guy has. He is certainly one to watch and a hot name to get on board with any project. The story is written to the finest detail and is very close to perfection. There's plenty of mystery and bursts of effective tension. The acting from Renner and Olsen is a good representation of what these characters would be like in real life. Wind River has an important message and is very entertaining despite its dark and heavy content. I left the screening almost speechless and apologies for the pun but I was pretty much blown-away by Wind River. A highlight for summer 2017.