A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tracker and an FBI agent team up to solve a double homicide on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming in Wind River (2017). On a mission to hunt down mountain lions killing local cattle, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) discovers the body of 18-year-old Natalie Hanson (Kelsey Asbille). The FBI sends Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), a Nevada field agent, to determine whether a crime has been committed. They later find another body, deepening the mystery.
Wind River is writer-director Taylor Sheridan’s latest offering. Sheridan is known for writing Hell or High Water (2016) and Sicario (2015) and acting in a number of TV dramas. Wind River takes place in Wyoming in early spring and has a very Western feel, despite its snow-swept mountains. Stunning cinematography was not enough to make up for extremely slow pacing and lack of compelling story.
Some critics argue it is genre defying and highly original; I say it suffers from an identity crisis. Wind River is labeled a “murder mystery thriller film,” but isn’t either of those things. There’s no mystery because a flashback explains exactly what happened halfway through and the authorities never actually solve the crime or bring anyone to justice. It’s not a thriller because there’s no sense of suspense or urgency. Unlike a typical crime thriller, there’s no sense that one crime must be solved to prevent another from occurring.
Unforgiven (1992) was genre defying and highly original. It had a compelling story and memorable characters with discernible personalities, it intermixed moments of humor and tenderness with shocking violence, and it shattered the mythos of the Old West while reigniting interest in the Western genre. In comparison, Wind River struggles to find direction. Its protagonists are cold and impenetrable and its interchangeable villains are uninteresting. Brooding, monotone delivery is mistaken for depth. Everyone is seriously depressed.
Wind River‘s first act sets up an interesting premise. A Fish and Wildlife Service tracker with a tragic past must help a clueless FBI agent track down a human predator. Along the way, he finds love again and comes to accept the death of his own teenage daughter. That would have been a great movie.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t how this one played out. It turns out the double murder was incidental–a crime of passion. Everyone dies (including most of the police) before anyone can solve the crime, Cory Lambert doesn’t end up with Jane Banner, and the final message seems to be “life is really shitty in Wyoming.” Nothing changes except the number of headstones at the local cemetery.
I did appreciate the characters’ authenticity. The American Indians were actually played by actors and actresses of that ethnicity (mostly). Graham Greene, a Canadian Oneida Indian known for Dances with Wolves (1990) and Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995), was great as Tribal Police Chief Ben. The settings were gritty and realistic, although one mobile home seemed to have an unrealistically cavernous interior.
In the end, Wind River is gritty, dark, and depressing, but that does not make it great. Its promotional material boldly states: “One of the best films of the year,” which while perhaps true, doesn’t say much in comparison to the other films released in 2017.