MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Taylor Sheridan. Elizabeth Olsen, Jeremy Renner
Wind River is a film that has a lot going for it: A cast of intelligent characters trying to get to the bottom of a mysterious and tragic death; beautiful cinematography of snow-crusted Wyoming mountains, filmed in treacherous conditions; the backdrop of a Native American reservation; and a message that encourages cross-cultural appreciation and justice for all people.
The movie is a crime procedural in which FBI Agent Jane Banner (Olsen) teams up with Fish and Wildlife Service Agent Cory Lambert (Renner) to investigate the death of a Native American woman (Kelsey Asbille) found barefoot and frozen to death (and sexually violated) in the snow, miles from civilization. Cory also happens to be an expert tracker and marksman. How did the body get there? How could anyone run so far in winter? What crime was committed, if any?
Cory is the person with entrée into the Wind River Reservation. He was once married to a Native American woman and has family connections to tribal leaders. Cory also carries the grief of the death of his teenage daughter.
Agent Banner is from Las Vegas and is clearly a fish out of water, lacking even the proper clothing for cold weather traveling. She has a lot to learn from Cory as well as the people of the reservation. Therein lies the first stumbling block of Wind River: The white woman learns about Native American culture from the white man who has Native American friends. “This isn’t the land of backup, Jane”, says Cory. “This is the land of: You’re on your own.” Thanks for mansplaining and for being patronizing! It was great to see Graham Greene and Gil Birmingham as two colorful tribe members; unfortunately, their characters are placed on the sidelines for most of the film.
The second deficiency is how very little we actually learn about life in the reservation. If a film is going to raise this as a topic, it needs to follow through and let us see what goes on in this isolated and distinctive landscape (I highly recommend the 1998 film Smoke Signals as an entertaining alternative.)
The third (and most annoying) thing about Wind River is the moment in which the mystery is no longer a mystery. There is a revelation in the third act that comes in a surprising and startling fashion. I shook my head in disbelief.
The existence of Native American reservations reminds us of the sins of the past and the challenge of changing a way of life that has become normative. Wind River is a film that comes close to being significant. There is something worthy about the heart of this film, demonstrated beautifully in its concluding scene, and the movie deals honestly with the pain of grief and loss. You may find more to like in Wind River than I did. I just cannot recommend it without some reservations.
Three halos: Good intentions don’t always pay off, but I appreciated the attempt.
Three pitchforks:Lots of swearing; intense violence; rape.
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I appreciated your comments and thought I would add some of my own. I think the primary purpose of the film was not so much to show "life on a reservation" as to depict the very real and horrifying truth about the treatment of Native American women and the lack of statistics surrounding those that are missing. The focus was very narrow, indeed, but I think it brought home a truth that I, at least, was unaware of. Our country is divided over issues surrounding the treatment of immigrants, yet we very often forget about the very natives of this country who are frequently neglected and continue to suffer from alcoholism, diabetes, drug addiction, etc.
Yes, this was a difficult movie to watch, as I found myself throwing my coat over my head at crucial points, but I came away with a new awareness of the plight of our Native Americans, especially women.
Church of The Saviour, North Coast District
Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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