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November 16, 2017

‘Wind River’ takes on weighty themes with subpar characters and beautiful cinematography

(Official Facebook Page of ‘Wind River’)

Over open plains and long tree branches, the winter creates a canvas of white powder upon the Wyoming Wind River Indian Reservation. This bleached tone provides an awe-inspiring calmness, perhaps akin to that primordial moment when God proclaimed, “Let there be light.” Suddenly, a fox trots out before the white landscape and a gunshot is heard. As if with the smooth stroke of a painter, a bullet laces the creature’s deep red blood onto the now soiled snow.

Behind the fired gun’s barrel, staring through the eye of his scope lens, camouflaged in heavy duty white winter attire, and lying level with the ground is United States Fish and Wildlife Service tracker Corey Lambert. Lambert (Jeremy Renner) considers himself to be a lover and protector of the Wind River Indian Reservation and takes this apparently cattle-threatening fox’s life without remorse. If there is a problem on the reservation, Lambert’s impeccable skills as a tracker allow him to assess and handle the situation.

However, he soon finds himself confronted with a much larger problem that can’t be so simply resolved through his skill set. While surveying the range, he stumbles upon the frostbitten corpse of a young Native American woman lying in the ground under a deathbed of ice and snow.

This young girl’s death continues a string of injustices against Native American women that have taken place on the Wind River Indian Reservation since the 1978 United States Supreme Court case of “Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe” stripped tribal officers of their right to arrest and prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes on Indian Land. The court’s imperialistic and discriminative decision allowed for systematic and unchecked violence to take place against Native American women, and “Wind River” itself informs the audience that “no records are kept of how many Native American women go missing each year.”

As a man who cares deeply about the reservation and its inhabitants, Corey Lambert teams up with rookie FBI Agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) as they attempt to investigate and prosecute this woman’s murderer. Their mission is not only to bring the murderer to justice and provide closure to her grieving family, but equally to end the trend of pardoned violence against Native American women on The Wind River Indian Reservation.

“Wind River” grapples with very serious themes, which have historical accuracy that adds a greater emotional weight to the film’s plotline. However, it suffers from a screenplay that is far less compelling than writer and director Taylor Sheridan’s last two lauded works, “Hell or High Water” and “Sicario.” The film spends so much time dwelling in moments of sadness and tragedy, aiming to milk out its own thematic gravitas and incite the audience’s emotional involvement, that the end result feels like a poor rendition of the first episode of “Twin Peaks” with characters as complex as those you might find in any daytime soap opera.

Perhaps this was a result of popular Hollywood filmmaker Peter Berg’s involvement as a producer on the film, as his films frequently prefer special effects and cinematography over character development and compelling dialogue, and a similar unfortunate priority takes place in “Wind River.” But like the film’s beautiful and compelling cinematography that takes advantage of the gorgeous location in which it was shot, “Wind River” has many redeemable qualities that should leave viewers with an overall satisfying movie-going experience that also sheds light on the shameful treatment of the original inhabitants of North America by the U.S. government.

“Wind River” is Sheridan’s debut directorial effort, and though the film has many faults on a dramatic level, its storyline and visual approach lets one believe that Sheridan has a promising career ahead of him as a director. It’s important and comforting to know that there are more and more filmmakers today like Sheridan who are looking to shed light on the major political and cultural issues that lie in America’s past and present. “Wind River” is a good example of the ways we can turn to popular culture in order to become more informed and emotionally involved in how these issues may impact people from marginalized backgrounds.

William Plotnick can be reached at wplotnick@umass.edu.

Comments
One Response to “‘Wind River’ takes on weighty themes with subpar characters and beautiful cinematography”
  1. Ed Cutting says:

    An important point: “Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe” addressed tribal COURT jurisdiction.
    It’s the same thing with Military Courts Martial which can’t try civilians, those trials go to Federal Court.

    So too here, it’s part of why the FBI is involved.

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