I’m going to start by admitting that this is not the first time I’m sitting down to write my review of Wind River. It’s the third time, and technically the fourth, since the first time I tried, I didn’t actually get past the title. The heaviness of the film, the impact it had, it still weighs on my heart, and to express myself through these feelings is much harder than I anticipated. Here are my thoughts, scrambled and incoherent, about one of the more emotionally heavier films of 2017.
The opening shot of this film will stay with you for a while. The flash back scene will haunt your thoughts for a long long time. And the final statement of the film, revealing the truth behind the movie and its meaning for the minority represented in Wind River, will crush a tiny bit of your soul. In other words, this movie, written and directed by Taylor Sheridan, is hard to digest but oh how good that feels!
First of all, Wind River is beautifully written. Yes, it’s a very dark and horrible theme it explores, but essentially, the script itself is beautiful. Simply because the structure of the film is almost perfect! The movie starts with the viewer being thrown into something we don’t fully understand. Then, as we slowly get to know the characters, and the mystery is starting to unravel, the movie throws us back to the past, to the night it all happened. The flash back is so sudden that it’s like being thrown into water, and due to the shock of it, we kind of lock up. After which, the story wraps itself up.
To have that flash back scene so late in the film was a brilliant choice of movie making in my opinion. Out of everything that could have led us to the same conclusion, seeing it with our own eyes, knowing the consequences, that was what made Wind River so heavy and heart breaking. It was that glimpse of happiness out of nowhere, that joy, that moment of pure love being ripped away from us, that elevated the movie to another level.
I said in one of my wrap ups of 2017, that Wind River was a movie The Snowman wished to be. Both have a very heavy usage of snow, and the movie takes place in a very cold place. Yet, Wind River is the opposite to The Snowman, and not just because it actually has a finished movie in its hands, but because it never decides to hide itself. What you see is what you get, there is no mystery to it, and we follow the case being solved step by step with the characters, never having or needing to guess the outcome. What I’m saying is, the killer isn’t injected to the main plot to get a bigger reveal out of it, and I’m grateful for that. The shock is not the reveal of the killer, it’s the act and the brutality behind it, and that sometimes works better than the mystery of the murderer.
For me, it was essentially the flash back scene that did it. The scene that shows how and why the horrors we witness in the present moment came to be, and you know it will hurt, yet deep down you still hope that it might not happen. But it does. And you break a little, moment after moment, when things escalade, you know that it will get much worse. After we’re back in the present time, it keeps getting worse, and we witness again something horrible. It’s a heavy ending to a very bleak movie, and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
I have written so much praise for the movie itself that I haven’t even mentioned the actors, who did a wonderful job. Jeremy Renner plays a ranger with a dark past, an outsider who has become an insider, which is why he appeals to our other main character. Elizabeth Olsen plays an FBI agent, sent down to investigate the case all by herself. She comes unprepared and feels like a fish out of water, which is when she recruits the help of Renner’s character to aid her. The teamwork of the two is very professional, two of them being similarly distant and a little bit broken as people, and it works brilliantly. The moment Olsen’s character breaks down in the end, I think that was my favourite scene of hers. The supporting cast was strong as well, we had Kelsey Asbille playing the young victim, Graham Greene was the police chief, and Apesanahkwat was the father of the victim. And of course there’s Jon Bernthal, who’s presence in the film is brief yet very important. He delivers a very strong character, fully aware of how important his small role is for the entire film, and it’s a very riveting scene. In other words, I couldn’t pick a weak link, even if I tried.
Some movies just play in your head like a sort of vivid memory, and Wind River is exactly that type of movie. Through its silence and emptiness, the film delivers a hard hitting punch to the gut that you don’t see coming. Taylor Sheridan writes a very compact story within a limited space, that is just surrounded by vast emptiness, and it delivers a very focused movie. Wind River is beautifully shot, well acted by the main cast, with Jon Bernthal almost stealing the movie with his minor role. Definitely a worthy award contender, which is especially heart breaking fact to admit, because Wind River has been shut out of the award season for some reason. But at least it’s a winner in my eyes!