Film Festival Movie Review

Film Review: WIND RIVER: Simple, Yet Captivating, Thriller [Sundance 2017]

Jeremy Renner Wind River

Wind River Review

Wind River (2017), Film Review from the 33rd Annual Sundance Film Festival, a movie directed by Taylor Sheridan, starring Jeremy RennerElizabeth Olsen, and Jon Bernthal.

This highly-anticipated film from Sicario and Hell or High Water screenwriter, Taylor Sheridan, contains strains of the filmmaker’s signature themes of violence and isolation in middle America, but the film suffers from Sheridan’s first attempt at pulling double-duty as both screenwriter and director.

This thriller opens with a voiceover of a poem read by the author and victim, a young Native-American woman, as she nears the end of a fatal six-mile trek through the chilling Wyoming wilderness that is the Wind River Indian Reservation.

With little to go on but the body itself, which is far removed from any obvious locale, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department agent Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) finds himself in over his head despite a keen intuition and connection with the local population. After conferring with the Tribal Chief of Police, the nearest FBI agent, rookie Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), is beckoned to help solve the brutal crime.

Unlike Sheridan’s aforementioned screenplays, this one is, unfortunately, relatively simple. The plot unfolds by-the-book, with little struggle or character challenges except for the occasional humorous poke at Jane’s inexperience. The expected arguments over jurisdiction make themselves known, especially during an autopsy scene reminiscent of that in Silence of the Lambs. Despite the comparison, this film is no Silence of the Lambs. Hell, it’s not even up to the par of Prisoners, the most recent well-done thriller to make its way to the big screen. But the film is decent and stands on its own – even if it stands shorter than other similar films.

The film may be hard to watch for those parents who have lost children to violent crimes. But they may be able to connect with Cory, who spends much of the film continuing to mourn the loss of his child in years past. This emotional subplot drives much of the film’s narrative; a sense of justice, closure, and finality imbues the film with a sense of purpose and meaning. Jane, too, connects with the victim on an emotional level as a woman who finds herself in a vulnerable position, forced to prove her skill and worth to seemingly much-more-capable men. These emotional connections are the heart of the film, and it’s pleasing to witness a focus on the humanity of the situation rather than non-stop action and violence. There is, indeed, violence – brutal violence – but it takes a backseat to the heart of the matter.

It also touches on a range of social issues that affect many American communities today, including severe depression and self-harm, drug abuse and addiction, gender equality, sexual assault, and adequate police protection in a dangerous age. Though the film presents a rather simple mystery, it is also captivating and worthy of your time.

Wind River is screening at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival in the non-competitive Premieres category. It was scheduled for a 2017 theatrical release by the Weinstein Co., but the studio dropped the film just before its Sundance Film Festival premiere. It has yet to be acquired by another studio. 

Rating: 7/10

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Image Source: Sundance Institute

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About the author

Drew Stelter

Drew is a 26-year-old film buff. A native Utahan, he attends the Sundance Film Festival annually. He is a member of the Salt Lake Film Society. In a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, he attended the Oscars Red Carpet on March 2, 2014, after winning an essay contest through the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. At any given time he can be expected to be conversing via movie quote GIFs.

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