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Wind River (2017)

Wind River (2017)

Rating: ****

The best intentions can’t save “Wind River” from its biggest flaw: Two white people take center stage in a film that is solidly Native American. Director Taylor Sheridan, a white man, steps behind the camera for the first time in his neo-western trilogy (“Sicario” and “Hell or High Water” being the preceding films) and does an admirable job telling the story of life on a reservation with a majority Native cast, but the caucasian pimples on its forehead stand out.

So, know that going in. On nearly every other level, “Wind River” excels in the same way the aforementioned films do. It tells the story of a still-grieving father (Jeremy Renner) paired with a green FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) to solve the murder of a young woman on a Native reservation in Wyoming. It’s a great story, filled with tension, shocking violence and an abundance of compassion for the plight of those on the Wind River Reservation.

Another word of caution: It also features one sequence of rape that, while not amongst the worst depicted on screen, certainly could have been left on the cutting room floor. I consider it amongst the flaws of the film, and another calling card of a male director who doesn’t quite know where the line is.

Frankly, it’s a shame those flaws exist, because there’s so much good in “Wind River” from a thematic standpoint. Renner’s character, who lost his own daughter under similar circumstances, connects with the father of the murder victim in exceptionally touching fashion. That theme, of grieving fathers, is extraordinarily powerful. It also gives a great platform to a Native actor (Gil Birmingham) to shine on.

“Wind River” thrives in the same areas as “Sicario.” The pacing is terrific, the score is excellent and the violence is as realistic as any film as I’ve seen. Sheridan discusses his research for the film in this interview with the Guardian, which details the hours of footage he poured over ahead of shooting the film. It shows. It feels real while watching the film, and it’s absolutely haunting.

That’s a word that fits for the entirety of the movie. Multiple horror trailers played before I watched the film, which I thought was a little odd at the time. I didn’t think so after the credits rolled. Not because I’d classify “Wind River” as a horror film, but because it’s so devastating from start to finish. The violence will mask much of that tone (though that comes from someone desensitized to much of it), but there’s an undercurrent of horror that you can taste throughout the film.

I would love to see a film like “Wind River” in the hands of a Native director, with Native leads. Sheridan is an extremely capable writer, and he’s proven himself to be a fine director. It just seems, based on the context of the world we live in, putting a film like this in the hands of a white man is a mistake. This is still a fine movie, but the flaws are baked into the recipe. Know that when you buy your tickets.

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