By: Kevin Jordan
The Great White Hunter
The last shot of the movie Wind River has a title card stating that no data is kept tracking the number of missing Native American girls. This is a strange way to end a movie that isn’t about missing girls, but is about solving the murder of a Native American girl. It also seems to be trying to say something about whom to blame for the sorry state of reservations, but it’s really not clear who. The movie throws shade at both the local Natives and the white man, then quietly drops the conversation. For an otherwise great movie, its ability to convey a strong social message is fairly lacking.
(Early SPOILER ALERT.)
I don’t want to get political with this movie, but considering the attention being paid lately to Hollywood whitewashing, it’s worth a mention. This isn’t the typical whitewashing in that no white people were cast in roles that would be better served by actors of a different ethnicity. In this case, it’s the literal and figurative depiction of the great white hunter saving the day for the Native Americans. Not only is the protagonist a white guy (Jeremy Renner) hired to hunt predatory animals, but he’s literally dressed in all white for much of the film and ends up hunting the murderer. Top that off with a tribal police force consisting of half a dozen cops who come off as idiots, led by a wise-cracking, wizened old police chief (Graham Greene) who long ago forgot what police procedure consists of, and of course the white man must be the savior. It’s 2017, but we’re still getting movies with this kind of messaging. Ok, let’s move on now.
While out hunting a mountain lion, Cory Lambert (Renner) comes across the body of a young woman in the snow in middle-of-nowhere Wyoming on the Wind River Reservation. He alerts the tribal police and they call the FBI, since a murder on a reservation is FBI jurisdiction. Wait, it is? Googling…Googling…yep, that’s true. In response, the FBI sends agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), who might be the worst agent in the FBI. Or maybe she’s just really new. Except, she doesn’t know that it’s cold in Wyoming in the spring, which is the kind of thing an FBI agent should know prior to the academy. She claims to have been sent from the closest office – Las Vegas, Nevada. Googling…um, no. There are field offices in Denver and Salt Lake City, even three satellite offices in Wyoming, so I’m going to call bullshit on that one. To be fair, this was done to add more to the idea that she was out of her depth on this case (and that the white man couldn’t be bothered to send more than a token of help), but really this was just an excuse for showing Olsen in a thong (which I’m not complaining about, by the way). But again, 2017.
Through much of the film, the writer (Taylor Sheridan, also directing) goes out of his way to make sure we never forget that murder cases can’t be solved by police or FBI agents trained in investigative techniques, but only with the help of Salt-of-the-Earth guy. Corey is an expert tracker, so every clue in the investigation is found by Corey pointing at the snow and repeating to us that “the clues are all out there.” Basically, this consists of him pointing at very obvious snowmobile tracks that escape the sight of law enforcement and eventually lead to the climactic reveal. Kudos to Sheridan for religiously sticking to the tracker/hunter theme. Okay, I guess this movie is your typical murder mystery, but I promise it’s better than many others.
The film is basically a drawn-out police procedural, but with much better acting and pacing. The pacing is especially good, never moving us too fast or too slow through the investigation and always breaking up the slow discovery scenes with bits of action. Strong camera work also helps put the audience into the hunt with the characters, though there is one scene that ruins the emotional beats with the always-obnoxious shaky-cam. There are also great emotional beats throughout the film that are placed perfectly. Olsen and Renner nail their roles, but the supporting cast, especially Greene and Gil Birmingham (the dead girl’s father), are just as noteworthy. Birmingham is in just two scenes, but he owns them. All of this leads into a great climax scene that comes in two parts. The first part is the revealing of the events leading to the girl’s death and the second part is the wrapping up of the investigation. These two parts are what make this movie and I promise they are worth the wait (and putting up with the political angle I mentioned earlier). Googling…googling…yep, most reviewers agree with me.
Rating: Ask for two dollars back and donate it to whatever charity is trying to help out reservation police. Apparently, they really need it (because they’re legitimately under-resourced).