Jeremy Renner Elizabeth Olsen Jon Bernthal Martin Sensmeier Julia Jones
Taylor Sheridan (writer, director) is an artist who knows how to draw out the best from the other artists in his films—Cinematographer Ben Richardson, Musician Warren Ellis, Actors Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen and the rest of the cast, Production Designer Neil Spisak, Art Designer Lauren Slatten, and the other technical contributors. Wind River represents a breathtaking example of the essence of accomplished filmmaking, from the sweeping snow-laden landscapes stained with blood, to the haunting musical score paired exactly with the dialog and action, to Renner’s wise old soul with extra sensory perception and gentle touch, and Olsen’s expert urban-trained FBI agent clearly not prepared for the different environment and population, but willing to learn. There is even an exquisite/troubling blending of stunning beauty and unspeakable horror.
I was especially impressed with cinematography that has the camera slink around with Cory tracking footprints in the snow, and guiding the eye upward or downward toward whatever it wants you to see. A view to admire is one shot from an airplane over a snowy, mountainous landscape, showing lumbering trucks on the highway bearing heavy snowmobiles. This prepares us for a showdown.
One would like to imagine that the pristine snowscapes we admire on the screen (as we sit in our toasty, comfortable theater seats) would hold innocence and purity and be reflected in fit bodies and souls. But alas, just as we hear about the brutal attack by a lion on a herd of cattle, we see a fallen human body in the snow with a head wound and blood coming out her mouth. Tracker Cory (Renner) sadly knows who it is, which provokes memories of an earlier death that still tears at him.
Cory is a good man, a respected local who, even without the memories, would willingly help FBI agent Banner (Olsen) who has been called in to solve the case. These sequences constitute the few scenes tinged with humor, when the agent comes totally unprepared for the bone-chilling weather and has to borrow warm clothing from the sheriff’s stern wife. (“Make sure you return it!”) Later encounters with the locals are likewise amusing when Banner meets native Indians, unwittingly offending them, and roughnecks working on an oil drill. Cory and the sheriff wryly get her up to speed from time to time, and she shows flashes of leadership and strength. (I wish Sheridan had made her character much stronger, as many filmmakers are willing to do with females nowadays…but maybe this is happening only in action figures a la Wonder Woman, Atomic Blonde, and Valerian/City/Thousand/Planets?)
This beautifully made film has substantive points to make as well as depth of character. It’s about loss and death—especially of children—and the multifarious ways in which people cope with it; life on an Indian reservation (this part is not fiction); the nefarious effects of drugs on young people; the art of skillful, informed sleuthing and interrogation; and, finally, how satisfying justified retribution can be.
Be prepared for an extravaganza of beauty in all its forms mixed with the realities of life lived.