Wind River

by Michael Cox

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday August 11, 2017

Jeremy Renner stars in 'Wind River'
Jeremy Renner stars in 'Wind River'  

Critically acclaimed screenwriter Taylor Sheridan dons his directing hat for the first time with "Wind River," a revenge thriller set on a Native American reservation in Wyoming. His intention with this film is "the conclusion of a thematic trilogy that explores the modern American Frontier," an effort that follows after his screenplays for "Sicario" and "Hell or High Water." In this instance, though, the "new eyes" of a separate director may have improved the results. The themes of violence and injustice are present, but this film takes a superficial look at people.

Sheridan's primary problem is focusing more on the external rather than the internal, a damaged society rather than the individual's dilemma. Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) follows the tracks of killers and blood of the victims. (This is the way to protect livestock from wild animals -- stalk a predator through the frozen desert.) Footprints in an otherwise pristine blanket of snow usually lead to answers. Not this time. This time, the tracks Lambert discovers lead him to an opportunity - the opportunity for a proxy revenge.

What Lambert finds, frozen in the snow, is a girl at the end of her journey. She has been brutally raped and murdered on a Native American reservation, a place that Sheridan calls "America's greatest failure," a land where states have little jurisdiction and the Federal Government has little interest.

In his director's statement, Sheridan says the reservation "is a place where addiction and murder kills more than cancer, and rape is considered a rite of passage for girls on the cusp of womanhood."

White men raping and killing Native American women on a reservation makes for a spot-on metaphor for American imperialism, but this is where the film's allegory begins and ends. There are no new insights, admonitions or solutions.

Elizabeth Olsen plays a rookie FBI agent sent from Las Vegas, the sole Federal officer sent to deal with the crime. The character is reminiscent of Clarice Starling in "Silence of the Lambs" without the depth or nuance, and Olsen plays her with about as much warmth as her blizzard-crusted surroundings.

The movie is not without an element of blood for the sheer satisfaction of blood. One could call it a straightforward revenge melodrama -- to call it a revenge tragedy would imply a transformation within the main character. Though Renner's performance is compelling, his character is no different in the end of the movie than he was in the beginning.

Instead of catharsis, the movie brings up issues. Our country treats the Native American population abominably, throwing a small amount of money at them and then pretty much ignoring them. This is a fact. But these are not character issues, and we don't gain empathy by watching people cry; we gain it by walking in their shoes. Furthermore, a film about vengeance should say something about the nature of justice.

With all the Native American actors in this movie (Graham Greene skillfully plays the local law enforcement officer) one would hope for more insight into the Native American experience. You can't make a movie about simple retributive justice "important" by reminding us of the film's ugly setting. (Which this film does for far too long after its climax.) In this instance, the movie becomes a case of condescending cultural misappropriation.



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