Monday, September 4, 2017

Wind River Review

Last year one of the surprise movies of the year was a little film called "Hell or High Water." It was an indie film also released in August that was a modern western/heist film that immediately blew me away. I didn't think it was going to be an Oscar film, but it gained so much traction on all fronts that it pleasantly surprised me by making it into the race and getting four nominations, including best picture and best original screenplay for Taylor Sheridan. It's that Taylor Sheridan that is back again this year with another screenplay he's written. Except this time Sheridan is not only responsible for writing the screenplay, but he's also decided to sit in the director's chair, something he's only done once before in 2011 with a small horror film called "Vile" that I don't even think got much of a theatrical release, if at all. Sheridan, who was previously known for his acting, most notably being that of Deputy Chief David Hale in "Sons of Anarchy," definitely now has my attention as a new filmmaker with "Wind River," "Hell or High Water" and the script of Denis Villeneuve's "Sicaro" under his belt. Because, yes, "Wind River" is an absolute bone-chilling thriller that's well-written and well-directed by Sheridan and is thus one of the highlights of the year so far.

"Wind River" starts out with a bang as we see a modern Native American girl running bare foot across miles of snow with a rather chilling monologue being repeated as she runs. Around the time the monologue finishes, she collapses in the snow, having reached the limit with whatever she was running from. From that point on, you know you are in for quite the ride. And it's certainly an intense ride that you get, albeit one that takes it's time in setting the scene and building the characters involved in this bleak, depressing tale. Shortly after the girl collapses, we are introduced to our main character of the film, that of Jeremy Renner, who plays a hunter on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. While out on the job, he runs into the body of this now dead Native American girl and thus we embark on this murder mystery thriller in the Wind River Reservation, which proves rather difficult given the scarcity of the police force in the area. They simply don't have the manpower to conduct the type of investigation necessary to easily solve this type of case on the level that us Caucasians do in a typical U.S. city. The best help they get is that of Elizabeth Olsen, the lone FBI agent called from out of town to help work on the case.

Yes, I love myself a good thriller. When we get to the meat of this story, it gets super intense and heavy. But I also love a good, character-driven drama. The latter is what this movie is for most of it. Neither Jeremy Renner nor Elizabeth Olsen are Native American, but both of them are heavily involved in this to help us gain perspective of what life may be like for some modern Native Americans. In this fictional story, Jeremy Renner's character married a Native American woman and the two of them had two children before certain circumstances led to their divorce. Much of this movie revolves around their story, giving Jeremy Renner a ton of depth as we dive into heart of the movie. Everything involving them does tie into the overall story which adds a lot of weight and emotion when we finally get our big payoff. Then we have Elizabeth Olsen as our fish out of water. She represents the average white American who comes into the situation and quickly realizes how in over her head she is. She is a very strong character who wants to do a lot more, but simply doesn't have the experience with and knowledge of this culture to do as much as she wants, thus she's the character who represents most of us watching the film.

Perhaps I'm biased, but I would really love it if Jeremy Renner managed to get an Oscar nomination. I interviewed Jeremy Renner leading up to the movie "Arrival" last year for my internship, which is a fun experience that I enjoy bragging about to my friends. Hence the bias. But I honestly think he does a phenomenal job in this movie. Both him and Elizabeth Olsen. They did such a good job of becoming these characters and bringing the depth and emotion required to pull this off. Despite their extreme recognizability in Hollywood, it didn't even dawn on my until the end of the movie that we were watching Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch from "The Avengers" solve a murder mystery on a Native American reservation. I saw them as these characters in this film and I was fully invested in wanting them to succeed. When popular, recognizable actors can manage to disappear into their roles and make you see them as a character and not an actor, I think that's worthy of high praise. While Renner and Olsen are the leads in this movie, there are plenty of Native American characters in supporting roles who all do a fantastic job of setting the scene for the story that's being told. Simply put, without them there is no movie. You really feel for all them.

I don't really want to say too much about modern Native American culture since I know close to nothing about it. I have no idea if this movie is an accurate portrayal of the type of lifestyle these people go through or not. The struggles that the black community have faced and are still faced is well-reported and documented, which is why the social commentary in movies such as "Get Out" and "Moonlight" is so powerful. I think it's possible that "Wind River" provides similar social commentary for the Native American community, so I think it's possible that this could be an important movie to see, but I simply don't know enough one way or the other. At the very least, this movie gave me a desire to learn more about this culture and what life is like for these people. The awful treatment of the Native Americans back in the early days of this country are certainly well-documented. But how is life like for them now? One of the themes of the movie is that not many of us today are aware of what's going on in their lives on these reservations, which is why this movie made me curious to know more. I imagine life is not super ideal and thus if something awful like a murder of an 18-year-old girl were to happen, it would probably hurt even more.

If nothing else, if we look at this movie as a movie and remove the social commentary, this still works really well as a movie. Regardless of who you are and what race or culture you belong to, losing someone you care about is an awful thing and when it happens via murder, it's hard to imagine the pain and suffering that occurs for the family and friends of that individual. This movie definitely does a really good job of painting that severe depression and sadness that takes place. The moments where Renner and Olsen are at the home of the family are heart-wrenching. Gil Birmingham as the father of this girl especially shines in every scene he is in. I don't know if this will end up as an Oscar contender like "Hell or High Water." My guess would be no, but I thought the same thing of "Hell or High Water," so we'll wait and see. But if does end up as an Oscar contender, Gil Birmingham would be my vote for supporting actor after putting Renner and Olsen in the lead actor and actress categories. His wife in the movie is only in a few scenes of the movie, but holy cow does she deliver some power when she shows up. There is one specific scene that just ripped my heart out and when you get to this scene with her, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.

It's fair to note that "Wind River" won't be for everyone. There are certain scenes that might be too much to handle for some, especially in the final act. But if you love yourself a good crime thriller, this is the movie this year that you need to show up for. There's a lot of build up to set the stage for what's happening. This could bore some. For me I really appreciated how it took the time to build the characters and make you truly care for them and what they are going through. Without all of that, I don't think the finale would be as rewarding as it is. I'm not going to talk spoilers about the final act. That would require a lot more explaining about the plot, anyways. But needless to say there is a moment in the end that punches you in the gut and sends you reeling. It's a very rewarding finale to a rather excellent film that I have to say is held together quite well by the score of the film as well as the beautiful cinematography and landscapes of Park City, Utah, which is right around the corner from where I live. The goal with all of that is to make you feel cold and it worked. I almost wanted to put on a coat in the theater and it was hot outside when I saw the movie. But yeah, don't miss this movie if thrillers are your thing. It's a highlight of 2017. I'm going to give "Wind River" a strong 9/10.

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