Not a single aspect of Wind River is easy to endure, but every shot, frame, line of dialogue, standoff and underlying theme is indispensable. The film turns every convention on its head in a plot involving a murder on a Native American reservation—the investigation is not depicted as a mystery, but implores both its characters and the audience to simply follow the tracks to their true origin, no matter how uncomfortable or unsatisfying it may be. This approach both respects the heavy subject matter by avoiding salacious twists, and provides a trenchant historical metaphor about the history of colonialism, racism and valuing the colonizers’ convenience over the lives of those uprooted.
R, 111 minutes
Violet Crown Cinema
Wind River tells the story of the investigation into the rape and murder of a young woman (Julia Jones) on the Wind River Indian Reservation after a tracker for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Jeremy Renner) discovers her body frozen in the snow. He notifies Tribal Police Chief Ben (Graham Greene), who brings in FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen). It gets tricky as to what crime falls under the auspices of which agency, so all three attempt to use the limited resources of the local police and navigate the narrow jurisdictional parameters afforded to each.
Wilma, the victim, was running away from something at the time of her death, and was killed by sub-zero temperatures. As such, the cause of death cannot be ruled homicide, even as it is clear from her bare feet that she was fleeing for her life. This creates logistical roadblocks for the team, who must follow procedure—the FBI cannot take over if the death is not ruled a homicide, while the Tribal Police are woefully understaffed and underfunded. This leaves Cory Lambert (Renner) to navigate both the tracks and the rocky terrain of legal propriety in pursuit of justice.
Along the way, we meet the people of the reservation whose lives have been affected by the isolation, lack of attention and the long-term consequences of forced relocation.
Along the way, we meet the people of the reservation whose lives have been affected by the isolation, lack of attention and the long-term consequences of forced relocation. Wind River is tormented by drugs, poverty, despair and an increasing disconnect between the supposed political rights afforded by the United States and the reality of living within the American borders but not being afforded the same resources. The arrival of Agent Banner ought to be a blessing—an experienced and knowledgeable officer of the law with the powers of the federal government—but one bureaucratic obstacle and she is legally powerless. Ben has become accustomed to this treatment, while the tragic loss of Cory’s daughter in similar circumstances makes him feel less beholden to regulation.
The ways writer-director Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell or High Water) subverts convention makes Wind River a more effective societal statement than the horrors of its narrative might have been treated in different hands.
As mentioned above, this is not a mystery. We are not meant to wonder which of the main leads actually committed the crime. Until those questions are answered, the real perpetrators are shown as society and unconfronted history; there is one confrontation between three armed groups that debate who has legal authority. The plot does indeed center primarily on two white outsiders, but while Jane is new to the terrain and legal loopholes of this specific circumstance, she is not the neophyte whose innocence becomes tarnished during the investigation. One might view Cory as the white man “gone native” in the vein of Dances with Wolves, an unfortunate white savior motif we have yet to fully part with, but his presence is counterbalanced with that of private contractors, showing that de facto colonization has persisted.
Wind River is a near flawless procedural that, while at times brutal, is never exploitative or manipulative of its subject or its audience’s sympathies.
Playing this week
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema
377 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056
Annabelle: Creation, Atomic Blonde, The Dark Tower, Dunkirk, The Hitman’s Bodyguard, Logan Lucky, The Nut Job: Nutty by Nature
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213
Annabelle: Creation, Atomic Blonde, Brigsby Bear, The Dark Tower, Despicable Me 3, Detroit, Dunkirk, The Emoji Movie, Girls Trip, The Glass Castle, The Hitman’s Bodyguard, Kidnap, Logan Lucky, The Nut Job: Nutty by Nature, Spider-man: Homecoming, War for the Planet of the Apes
Violet Crown Cinema
200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000
Annabelle: Creation, The B-Side, The Big Sick, Dunkirk, The Glass Castle, The Hitman’s Bodyguard, Logan Lucky, The Nut Job: Nutty by Nature, Step, Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk