Saturday movie review: Wind River

Moviegoers who like the Netflix series Longmire are sure to be intrigued by the film WIND RIVER as the two have much in common. Both are set in Wyoming, where the unforgiving terrain plays as much a part as the humans who live there and the plentiful Native American reservations generate racial tensions many unfamiliar with Wyoming may not realize exist.

Wind River

In both the series and the movie, interaction between residents of a reservation and the "white" people living near the reservation is key to the story. Both have similar themes and characters (even a few of the same actors, as I mention below). Both have storylines highlighting the underlying distrust between Native Americans and townsfolk as well as the differences in how criminal justice is served — or not — on the rez and off. Characters of the series and the film include good guys and bad guys on both sides, folks who straddle or exploit the often blurred lines of what is good or bad, right or wrong on either side. And the way those lines and moral dilemmas affect good people with good intentions who sometimes do bad things for good reasons.

Those unfamiliar with Longmire will certainly appreciate WIND RIVER, too, not only for the themes and storyline but because of the strong performances by all the actors in the murder mystery thriller, especially those of Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen. And because it's simply a good film.

In WIND RIVER, Renner plays Cory Lambert, a veteran Fish and Wildlife Services tracker and longtime Wyoming resident. During a tracking excursion, Lambert discovers the body of a Native American woman from the nearby Wind River Indian Reservation, shoeless, bloody and frozen in the snow. When Vegas-based rookie FBI agent Jane Banner (Olsen) arrives to investigate the murder, she recruits Lambert to help her with the investigation. 

Lambert is conflicted by the task as the girl is the daughter of his best friend — and her tragic death is similar to his own young adult daughter's death.

Banner is not only unprepared for the rugged climate, she's wholly unprepared for the reality of reservation life and the loyalties, grudges, and desperation that run deep and dark throughout the region's residents. 

Scenes surrounding the circumstances of the young woman's death — as well as other violence related to it — are unsettling and difficult to watch. For the most part, though, WIND RIVER is a quiet film. Many of the characters have deep scars and secrets they reveal only bit by bit, in gestures and expressions but few words. Despite a few violent scenes, the desperate characters drive the movie forward more so than the action.

Olsen's Banner is continually confronted by people in palpable pain, situations that emphasize her outsider status. Much of the intrigue for viewers is wondering how things will turn out for her.

Lambert's initial reluctance in assisting Banner soon fades as he senses her true commitment to justice, to helping the Native Americans who have been neglected by the system. Together they struggle to learn the truth, make sense of things nonsensical, unfair, and unforgivable. 

In addition to strong performances by Renner and Olsen, Graham Greene — who just so happens to be in Longmire (as is Julia Jones, who plays Renner's ex-wife, Wilma) — turns in a commendable performance as Ben, the Tribal Police Chief. 

Director Taylor Sheridan has been nominated for and won several awards for WIND RIVER, including "Un Certain Regard - Best Director" at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.

Some interesting behind-the-scenes interviews with key players of WIND RIVER:


WIND RIVER (rated R for "strong violence, a rape, disturbing images, and language") premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and opened in U.S. theaters August 18.