‘Wind River’ is a Haunting Thriller with a Powerful Message

Inspired by true events, Wind River isn’t a film about one story, it’s about something bigger: The injustice faced by murdered and missing Indigenous women. Written and directed by Taylor Sheridan, the film follows FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) and tracker Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) who attempt to solve the case of who raped and murdered a young Native American woman.

This crime thriller opens with the haunting scene of the young victim fighting to survive, running for six miles in the snow, barefoot. The film explores how these fights for survival become an almost impossible task to solve—all while exposing a broken justice system.

Banner is sent to lead the investigation on the Wind River reservation, but soon learns it’s a near impossible task. Her own survival instinct is put to the test, parallel to the story’s victim. Because Indigenous reservations are so excluded from the rest of society, most don’t have the resources nor the police force to find the missing and avenge the murdered. Elizabeth Olsen’s character is even unable to get any help from other FBI agents. Ultimately the crime’s resolution relies on Lambert, whose daughter’s own murder went unsolved. As tiresome as the “white man saves the day” narrative can be, sometimes, it’s the only solution in a society where white privilege can be the only way to help the marginalized.

The film’s captivating story leaves minimal complaints, save for a gaping plot hole: the death of Lambert’s daughter. From start to finish, there is the impression that both murders were connected in some way that left the audience hoping that the film would come to that resolution, as it presented many opportunities to do so. But in the end, it chose to avoid it. From another angle, the story is reflecting reality: the fate of missing and murdered Indigenous women are left hanging in the air with no resolutions.

The film presents a diverse cast of actors who all deliver powerful performances, especially the film’s main protagonists. Renner and Olsen deliver the sadness and frustration that represent society’s own feelings on the issue, and leaves the audience wishing this was fiction. The breathtaking cinematography highlighting Wind River’s white wilderness, alongside a haunting soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, emphasizes the feeling of hopelessness felt by, not just the victim’s family in the film, but all. Thankfully, to keep the balance, Sheridan manages to maintain a humorous side to the story’s dialogue while providing a powerful and satisfying conclusion to this heartbreaking story.

The film concludes with a quote: “while missing person statistics are compiled for every other demographic, none exist for Native American women.”  Who’s to say how many other women fought for their lives while running barefoot in the snow, and who’s to say when they will receive a fight for answers in death? Hopefully, this film will spark something new in a conversation that’s been going on for far too long.

Grade: A


(Featured Image: Wind River, The Weinstein Company)

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