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Wind River

Acacia Filmed Entertainment, 2017


Taylor Sheridan

Reading Time:

5 minutes

Wind RiverThings Gone Wrong (WWEH576CL64WHWCC)
00:00 / 05:52

📷 : Used with permission, Snollygoster Productions

Wind River


Image of movie's tea brew

Thought-provoking movies and TV shows


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Movies and TV shows in cold weather and blizzard conditions

Reba Chaisson


Few contemporary stories are set on lands of Indigenous people. This one is guided by Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen who work together to catch the rapist and killer of a young woman. The 18-year-old is found barefoot in the winter wilderness on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. While the film is focused on investigating the crime, the cultural backdrop gives viewers a front seat to the Arapaho Nation’s challenges, cynicism, and humanity.

Sadness, sameness, and a sense of lull hang over the film at the outset. Until the audience spends the next hour and 47 minutes on “the rez,” an appreciation for this can never be understood—short of the firsthand experience of living there or somehow becoming a part of the community.

Renner (The Hurt Locker, The Town) plays Cory Lambert, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife specialist who hunts wild game that prey on the cattle and sheep raised by Wyoming ranchers on federal lands. Recently divorced, he is very close to his ex-wife, her family, and their neighbors who live on Wind River. When he is dispatched to the reservation to track down a lion that recently killed a rancher’s steer, he stumbles upon the body. The discovery deeply affects him because he knows the woman and her family quite well—she is his daughter’s best friend.

Graham Green (Goliath, Molly’s Game) plays Ben, the sheriff of Wind River. The combination of his cynicism and seriousness strikes a perfect chord in the film, balancing the murder tragedy with the travesty that is life on the reservation. A valley of flat land for miles cradled by mountains so difficult to climb “you have to travel 50 miles to go five,” Wind River appears to be a forgotten place despite being only 140 miles from Jackson Hole, an affluent vacation and resort area. “The rez,” on the other hand, is a desolate and impoverished community with few prospects for young people.

The geographic and social isolation of Wind River brings back images streamed of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Then, people in the once-rambunctious city motioned in the warmth to hovering news helicopters for help. On Wind River, cold and silence fill the space as residents seem to have resigned themselves to the fact that help will never arrive and no one with authority cares. When a lone FBI agent is dispatched to help with the murder investigation, no one is surprised; indeed, the scene is almost laughable if the situation were not so tragic. When Agent Jane Banner is flabbergasted that the coroner will not declare the woman’s death a homicide, noting that she will get no additional federal help unless he does so, Ben quips “Don’t look at me; hey, I’m used to no help.”

Played by Olsen (Avengers: Infinity War, Sorry for Your Loss), Jane is a breath of fresh air in the film. Her naivete about life on “the rez” brings a much-needed outsider’s perspective. Not only is she a federal officer who works collaboratively with Ben and Cory to find the killer, Jane arrives on Wind River with no apparent assumptions about the people who live there or the conditions of the community. She displays the ability to empathize more through emotions than words, which stands out amidst the apathy surrounding her. What she learns about life on “the rez” and what the young woman endured before her death are aptly revealed as overwhelming for her. This is particularly so after an intense, action‑packed climax.

In some ways, Jane’s telling emotional scene is reminiscent of the 1996 film, A Time to Kill. In his summation to the jury, Matthew McConaughey’s character described in detail what happened to the little girl who was assaulted. He then asked the jurors to close their eyes, and said, “Can you see her? Now pretend she is White.” Jake Brigance, McConaughey’s character, saw this statement as his last‑ditch effort to humanize the little Black girl for the all-White Mississippi jury. Jane’s character in Wind River functioned much like Jake’s in pushing forth the film as a story about humanity, rather than just a crime saga produced solely for entertainment value. I wonder, though, about the effectiveness of this had Jane and Jake been cast with Black, Hispanic, or Indigenous actors. Unfortunately, this is still something I wonder although the two films are separated by more than 20 years.

Filmed mostly during the daylight hours and almost entirely on Wind River, the movie contains some intimate family moments. During these times, we come to understand what underlies the personal and emotional pain of the characters including that of Cory, as well as the factors that contribute to the breakdown of families on “the rez”. While it is a film about a crime, Wind River is also a story about a forgotten segment of the U.S. And ironically, the audience sees this through the empathetic eyes of White lead actors, one of whom depicts a federal agent.

Wind River might be for you if you like crime mysteries, suspenseful climaxes, and particularly if the sight of mountains and the use of snow gear and snowmobiles are appealing. Also, if you are a history buff, you get to view the legacy of the U.S.’ century-long movement of Indigenous people onto reservations.

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