While the story is familiar, Wind River offers an interesting glimpse into a troubled aspect of American culture.
For whatever reason, Wind River only stayed in theaters around here for a couple of weeks, and I never got a chance to see it. This is unfortunate, because this is one of the most interesting films of 2017.
The story itself is simple, we follow a hunter named Cory (Jeremy Renner) who is roped into helping young FBI agent Jane (Elizabeth Olsen) investigate the rape and murder of a young Native American woman. Jane and Cory work with BIA sheriff Ben (Graham Greene), who does not have the staff needed to actually do the investigative work.
We basically have a crime/mystery film that will seem quite familiar to anyone who watches crime films. There are some twists, but more or less the story follows expected trappings as we follow our protagonists as they get closer to finding out whodunit.
A few things set this film above its genre moorings. The largest being the well-written and interesting characters. Renner performs well here, and I am glad to see him in another more dramatic role. He speaks similar to a teacher or a sage, often offering poetic advice. I loved the dialogue, but it was a little odd that he always seemed to know what to say. Olsen is likewise excellent, and portrays a competent individual who is thrown into a world they do not understand.
The directing, pacing, and music all work wonderfully. The film is dreary, and each scene drips with depression that is hard to ignore. Through this technical feats the film demands to be taken seriously.
Several issues surrounding reservation life are front and center. Drugs, abuse, indifferent or incapable law enforcement, and abject poverty are all present here. We also have the major issue of violence against women, and how frail our ideas of ethics seem to be. The film is often ugly, but presents this ugliness with a purpose.
I tend to avoid discussing major controversies around films because I am a) lazy and b) usually quite late to the party when reviewing films. However, I want to address the white savior aspects of this story. Yes, Renner’s character is the one who can put the pieces together, get the bad guys, and save the day. Yes, his race is front and center as he is a white man coming to rescue the helpless Indians. However, the film is doing more than simply retreading old (and unwanted) tropes.
A major point of this film is that we actually have no idea what the crime rate is on reservations. Due to understaffing and lack of funds, BIA officials cannot keep up. Further, jurisdictional issues are an ever-present issue in any investigation dealing with violence on sovereign land. I am not trying to say that all reservations are hell-holes—many tribes have made best of a horrid situation. Others have become victim to the drug trade, corruption, and hopelessness. Wind River examines the latter, but seems to be arguing something broader. How often are cases of rape ignored? Sexual misconduct is slowly becoming a part of our national dialogue, but for many (perhaps countless) victims, this is too late.
Renner’s character seems to embody the idea of a savior more than that of a white savior. His character is the ideal person who can come in and figure out what is happening. He is the super-cop or super-hero who will actually deliver justice to those who seem poised to get away with horrid crimes. If the film wanted to be realistic, our victim would have just become another uncounted statistic, and there would have been no resolution. Here we do get our resolution—and it is fantastic to watch, but this isn’t real. Too often there is no one who looks into these crimes, let alone doing so with the passion that Renner’s character does.
I also think it is important to show white people actually helping the reservation. I know this is a political minefield, and I do not want to overgeneralize, but perhaps there needs to be outreach to help these hurting communities. These are heavy issues, and it is easy to present ignorance given the terrible history of white and Native American interactions throughout history. Where this film is different for me is that the role of the white man helping a minority group kept me thinking instead of scoffing. There is something more here than crap casting or gross oversight. This was intentional, and what that intention was could yield interesting discussions. I think this is a fantastic film that is worth watching. 9/10