365 Movies By Day Reviews of Movies I Watch that I Feel Like Writing About


Wind River (2017)

There are so many takeaways from Taylor Sheridan's Wind River that I don't even know which one to bring out first. I guess that I'll start by saying that, though flawed, this is the best movie of 2017 through the first eight months of the year. It's an epic masterpiece that might be missed by the common moviegoer who is so overwhelmed with the commercialization of movies like Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and War of the Planet of the Apes, that they might not even know it existed, let alone a movie that it might be interested in seeing. In a 2017 Hollywood that has seen a massive uptake in remakes, reboots, sequels, and prequels, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to find originality in a story and then, if you do, for that originality to come out in a way that encourages you to see it again and, hopefully, has a lasting impact on your life. That is what Sheridan, an incredibly gifted screenwriter, has done here in his first film behind the camera. Already to his screenwriting credit are the memorable Sicario and Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water. It's unlikely that Wind River will receive the same box office success as his first movie or the same critical acclaim come Oscar season as his second, but this is one hell of a directorial debut.

Then there is Jeremy Renner (Kill the Messenger, Arrival), an actor who was circling the silver screen for a good seven years before he captured worldwide recognition and critical acclaim with back to back Oscar nominations after his performance as the fearless, cocky leader of an elite Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal team in 2009's The Hurt Locker and then the ruthless and remorseless sidekick to Ben Affleck's conflicted protagonist character in 2010's The Town (the best movie in the best year for films in my lifetime). As an instant fan of his after these two classic films with career defining rules, I was as upset with anyone when I saw him involve himself first with The Bourne Legacy and then The Mission: Impossible franchise, and then The Avengers franchise. I did not want to call him a sellout and involving himself with multiple appearances in one of these franchises might have been enough, but all three. I know that making a movie takes time and, rightfully or wrongfully, I saw his opportunities for roles in movies I wanted to see him in going to other actors. But I'm never going to knock a person for trying to make the most money they can. He capitalized on his opportunities and while he wasn't in as many movies as I was interested in seeing him in, when he did take on roles where his paycheck was obviously smaller, I felt he picked good roles. Kill the Messenger is one of the best movies you've never heard of. And while he did take a secondary role to Amy Adams in Arrival, his performance was top notch and he held his own in a movie that completely snubbed Adams for a Best Actress Academy Award nomination. With no disrespect to his performance in Kill the Messenger, Wind River is Renner's best performance since his amazing back to back performances in 2009 and 2010.

Then there is Elizabeth Olsen (Godzilla, Oldboy). Who would have ever thought, she would be the most successful Olsen sister? Ten years ago, we didn't even know Mary Kate and Ashley had a younger sister. But now? But now the future is bright. Olsen's role as rookie FBI agent Jane Benner, straight out of Jacksonville, FL via way of Las Vegas, NV, thrown into the vast Wyoming wilderness to investigate the dead body of a local woman on an Indian Reservation is her best to date. Splitting the screen equally with a heavyweight like Renner might seem intimidating for an actress who has mostly played support roles to date, but she more than holds her own. Of course, it helps that her and US Fish and Wildlife Service agent Cory Lambert (Renner) are not only on the same team but on the same page for this entire film as they investigate what everyone knows, but no one can prove, to be the murder of an 18-year-old local Indian woman who Lambert finds dead face first in the snow, blood bursting from her mouth after her lungs exploded from the frigid temperatures, more than three miles from the nearest place of civilization with nothing but a set of tracks to show she had been running. The tracks conveniently disappear a quarter of a mile from where the body ended up due to a massive blizzard that swept through the area just before the body is found. Ironic is the fact that this blizzard was talked about so much during the early parts of the film, but then once it passed through, I don't even believe it snowed again, though it's apparent we are in sub-zero temperatures across a frozen terrain throughout the film. And I have no problem with this at all. It was needed. If the tracks, or even how far Wilma traveled before her death had been tracked back to where she began her barefoot (yes barefoot) run from, we wouldn't have much of a story, let alone a mystery.

A hunter by trade, Cory has experienced his fair share of tragedy in the past which we'll learn all about. There are tie-ins to this death as well, which we will learn about. In fact, the dead girl is the daughter of Martin (Gil Birmingham - Hell or High Water, The Lone Ranger) a longtime friend of his sniper friend. It's been three years since Cory's world was rocked and, while he is not recovered from it, he offers Martin a piece of advice that isn't designed to help his friend to get through it, but rather is designed to help the audience know how he is able to forge on. Cory is able to maintain his job and while he is no separated from his life, he is still there for his young son Casey, who also serves a parallel to the current storyline, but not very well (I do think that a lot was left on the cutting room floor in this movie to keep it clocking in at just under two hours). Cory uses logic to succeed in his job and when Jane calls on him to help with the investigation after the town coroner ruled that the cause of death was from natural causes rather than murder, though he acknowledges that the girl was repeatedly assaulted sexually and physically... just is unable to sign the death certificate that it's murder. Ben (Graham Green - The Green Mile, Dances with Wolves), the town's sheriff has a force of five to cover a land area the size of Rhode Island. All involved understand that unless this case falls into their laps, it won't be solved because the FBI won't investigate the case on an Indian Reservation unless it is ruled a murder. Jane needs to Cory to help navigate the terrain and interview the locals. Cory and Ben agree that she's all that they have as she's the only authority on the land. It really is riveting how it all plays out. It's storytelling and character development at its very best. And the characters don't differ from their norms. The movie takes place over the course of just a few days and we don't get a lot of Marin or his grieving wife. We don't get a lot from anyone other than Cory and Jane who form an instant friendship through respect for one another.

Wind River is a breathtaking view. The landscapes of the Wyoming winter serve as the ambiance of the entire story. We meet many other characters along the way as Cory, Jane, Ben, and a small local police force attempt to truly figure out what caused Jane to take off on barefoot and run for her life until the conditions caught up with her. The symbolism in this movie is layered thick and, perhaps, it's a little too much. But I won't take that away from what I found to be an exhilarating experience. Much like Sicario or Hell or High Water, Wind River is methodical in its build up and, just like the aforementioned movies, while there is a mystery involved, you won't be left scratching your head at the end. Say what you will about Sheridan, but his movies have you thoroughly engaged the whole time and erupt with much more ferocity than you'd imagine from how the stories begin (yes, even Sicario). I will mention the flaws of this movie even though I chose to ignore them. The first is that our protagonists don't seem to be accountable for the actions. Yes, I understand that laws may differ on an Indian Reservation, but I still think there would be certain protocol involved when certain actions occur. The second is something that I am not a fan of in movies and something we see too much of. And that is bad things happen to good people or people that other characters are close to, yet it's almost like these things are an afterthought. There is no "mourning period" or even brief respites of sadness if you will.

Oh yeah, and if you like at my tags, you'll see that Jon Bernthal (AMC's The Walking Dead, Baby Driver) is also listed in this movie. Yet I did not mention him in this entire review. Hmmm.

Wind River is a fantastic movie and one that forced me to abandon an incredibly busy work summer to get back into the movie review writing. This movie deserved a review. If you liked either Sicario or Hell or High Water, absolutely see this movie. If you are a fan of Renner, this is a must-see. This is the third best performance of a career that will continue to grow, when he's not wasting his talents as Hawkeye in The Avengers (again I get it). Or if you just want to see something completely original that will engross you from beginning to end, see Wind River. I don't think you'll be sorry.

Plot 10/10
Character Development 8.5/10
Character Chemistry 9/10
Acting 9.5/10
Screenplay 9/10
Directing 9.5/10
Cinematography 10/10
Sound 10/10
Hook and Reel 10/10
Universal Relevance 9.5/10

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