'Wind River': Opens the Floodgates of Indignation
Writer-director Taylor Sheridan's "Wind River," a murder-mystery inspired by true events, deserves plaudits not only because it is a skilled piece of filmmaking, but also owing to its eye-opening exposé of the disgraceful socioeconomic conditions on Native American reservations.
While the majority of Americans are more or less cognizant of the poverty that wreaks havoc in our urban ghettos, far fewer citizens are familiar with this rural brand of destitution ostensibly swept under the carpet of our national conscience. See it up close and the mind boggles.
Be warned, this is tough viewing. In service to its ugly divulgences, there are few punches pulled. Though billed as an action mystery, this is actually horror ... not about zombies or monsters manufactured in laboratories by mad scientists, but the real-life horror that has been perpetuated by human monsters. Squalor reigns supreme, the result of a whole culture conquered and decimated, its wounds left to fester for centuries. The horrid situation attracts ugly opportunism by those only too happy to feast on the sufferings of the unfortunate.
While no amount of graphic violence could adequately match the severity of the ghastly circumstances set in motion after we learn that Kelsey Asbille's Natalie, an 18-year-old Native American, goes missing, Sheridan sure gives it the old college try. In one terrible scene that seems to go on forever, though actually just a couple minutes long, our discomfort is palpable. While we may for a second question whether or not this is purposely gratuitous to please deplorably bloodthirsty tastes, we ultimately realize and accept the mission of frankness.
The detective story that serves as the frame for this powerfully evocative muckrake, wherein the filmmaker counterbalances humankind's ugly side with the natural but all the same ominous beauty of the wide open spaces, presents Jeremy Renner as the story's moral compass. Sturdy and unequivocally devoted to things good and fair — though of course a skeleton in his history questions that — he is Cory Lambert, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife officer who was married to a Native American. He is steeped in the culture, especially when it comes to his tracking skill.
This proves particularly helpful to Elizabeth Olsen's Jane Banner, the pretty, Las Vegas-based FBI agent sent to frigid Wyoming to sort out the dastardly doings. Naturally there is the usual skepticism surrounding this apparent mismatch. "See the kind of FBI agent we get?" mutters Graham Greene's stoical reservation police chief, Ben, to a comrade. The teaming, whether based in fact or not, is admittedly hackneyed. But it works to the saga's purposes, adding just enough competitive chiding to keep matters from devolving into a complete dirge.
All the same, there's no getting away from the constantly beleaguering panoply of injustices that demands your indignation. Did you need this? "Yes you did," answers your better self, which cannot help but anguish how you might ameliorate this national disgrace other than to simply send money to some charity. And then, there is yet another distress with which to deal. As our odd-couple investigators close in on and prepare to confront the heinous perpetrators, we find ourselves salivating for revenge, even if it'll take a cascading bloodbath to accomplish it.
This is more vicarious justice than entertainment, hoping that some varmints — and oh, they are varmints — get their painful comeuppance and lots and lots of smiting. But please differentiate. Slice and dice films generally offer no message other than it's dangerous to be a teenager on a team bus. It's horror for horror's sake. Whereas, save for a smattering of dramatic hyperbole expected of any adventure, "Wind River," for all its exhortations for revenge, directs our innate visceral energy to a pragmatic albeit vicious understanding of the real terrors challenging us.
The hope is, after you witness a film about the devastations of any historically compromised population, that perhaps it will inspire someone besides yourself: maybe a congressman, a senator, a philanthropist or an influential clergyman. But more importantly, maybe it'll affect our society's real heroes, the young people. They don't need their arms twisted very much to know that if the world is to keep on truckin' to some great destiny, then the only direction is up, up where higher thought dictates that inclusion is not only right, but necessary to our survival.
A solid cast led by Jeremy Renner as the John Wayne sort with a touch of vulnerability immerses itself into the tragedy with selfless aplomb. Olsen, the younger sister of famous "Full House" twins Mary-Kate and Ashley, acquits herself effectively as law enforcement's attractive sore thumb; and Graham Greene again brings that noble, long-suffering humility to the subject at hand. Eloquently converging these artistic tributaries, Sheridan's "Wind River" worthily navigates the grievous oppression it hopes to ebb into extinction.
"Wind River," rated R, is a Weinstein Co. release directed by Taylor Sheridan and stars Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen and Apesanahkwat. Running time: 107 minutes
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