Wind River (2017) REVIEW

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On Monday night, at Odeon’s Screen Unseen -their advance preview screenings where audience members don’t know which film they’re booking to see- I saw Wind River, a thriller which stars Jeremy Renner as Cory Lambert, an expert hunter/tracker, and Elizabeth Olsen as Jane Banner, an FBI agent who flies out to Renner’s hometown to investigate a murder that occurs in a Native American reservation.

Most of Screen Unseen’s offerings are quite lighthearted fare; lately we’ve been treated to Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver and the silly, fun, Alan Patridge-esque tale of Mindhorn, but Wind River is a far more sobering tale. Set in Wyoming, the film describes its own landscape as “nothing but snow and silence”, and that’s a large part of what makes the cinematography of Wind River look so clean, and so lonesome. Wide shots of mountains and sprawling stormy landscapes make everything seem devastatingly large, and all of the characters appear very small against these backdrops.

The plot itself is good: the film is well-paced and doesn’t overstretch itself like The Revenant. The film knows where it has to start and end, but there are still the moments of extreme tension that you want from a Thriller, where seconds seem to stretch into days as you wait anxiously to see if our characters will make it out of the snow alive.

As much as I wanted to keep this review spoiler-free, I think it bears warning that the film contains a quite graphic scene of sexual assault, something that you risk when booking a Screen Unseen film. Though I understand the point of it in context of the film (it was supposed to be shocking in order to make me uncomfortable as an audience member, emphasising the feelings of powerlessness that Native women regularly have to endure), I can’t help but wonder if we really had to witness the scene so vividly. I have Defenders on the brain as I’m currently watching the latest Netflix series, and I can’t help but think of Jessica Jones, and how well that series managed to show the devastating affects of sexual assault without the need to actually force us to sit through it.

I saw a few comments on social media about Wind River being a white saviour narrative, and whilst I don’t agree with that entirely -the point of the film is largely about how legislation prevents Native peoples from being able to help themselves, not because they aren’t good enough, but because they are helpless in the eyes of the law- the Native characters are rather pushed aside so that Olsen and Renner can go off into the snow and track animals better than any of the Natives apparently can. It does feel at times as if this is their story, with the Native Americans their set pieces, even though I think the film is trying to portray a Native story through the lens of two white characters.

Wind River is a film that I don’t think I would’ve watched in a general release, so I appreciate getting the chance to maybe learn a few sobering truths about people who live on the other side of the world to me. While some people might disagree with the way some aspects of the film’s narrative were handled, I at least appreciated the fact that it opened up a discussion about Native Americans in a part of the world where we are never formally educated about their lives, and the difficulties they face in the twenty-first century.

If, like me, you’re affected by the themes brought up throughout the film, you can donate to the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center here.Their mission is to “serve as the National Indian Resource Center (NIRC) Addressing Domestic Violence and Safety for Indian Women…under this grant project and in compliance with statutory requirements, the NIWRC will seek to enhance the capacity of American Indian and Alaska Native (Native) tribes, Native Hawaiians, and Tribal and Native Hawaiian organizations to respond to domestic violence.”

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A well-made, tense thriller which sometimes forgets whose story it's telling.