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Sunday, August 13, 2017

QUICK TAKE: Wind River

The Buzz: Taylor Sheridan, who starred in Sons of Anarchy, is one of the few actors to successfully make the leap to a behind-the-scenes profession. In 2015 he wrote his first feature film, Sicario, which netted him an Oscar nomination for best original screenplay. In 2016 he followed that up with Hell or High Water, a modern western starring Jeff Bridges and Chris Pine, and also garnered more awards attention. In 2017 we see Sheridan make the leap to directing. Wind River, Sheridan's first major directorial effort (he also wrote the movie), is a mystery/thriller set in a remote Native reservation in Wyoming. The movie stars Elizabeth Olsen as an FBI agent dropped in to assist in solving the rape and murder of a young woman living on the reservation. 

What's Great About the Movie: The concept behind this movie is an important one: the violence against Native women, the lack of resources to successfully prosecute these cases, and the lack of justice for the families impacted by this violence. It seems to be a recurring theme in Sheridan-penned films that the location of the film feels like a character itself, which is definitely the case for Wind River. The film highlights the bleak, desolate living conditions and the chilling, life-ending cold of the surroundings. I wouldn't be surprised to see cinematographer Ben Richardson (known for his work on Beasts of the Southern Wild) garner some award consideration for the way this film is shot. 

What's Not-So-Great About the Movie: Wind River has two major problems, one of which I could get past and the other I couldn't. The one I could live with is the way the mystery is unraveled in the film. The film feels like a thriller/mystery but doles out the story in a way that is fairly anticlimactic; the FBI follows tracks over and over again until they randomly happen upon a resolution, which feels like it comes out of the blue and is mostly told via flashback. The other major flaw in this film, which I think undermines it completely, is the casting of Jeremy Renner as the lead role. Olsen's role as an out-of-her-depth FBI agent works. But Renner's casting and character doesn't make sense (it's not a fault of his acting). He tells the FBI, the reservation police, and everyone around him how to solve the case, makes wistful comments about the hard truths of living on the reservation (even though he does not), and plays the hero at every turn. Sheridan ties the character into the story by giving him a history in which he marries a Native woman and loses his daughter to violence, but it still feels like his presence in the film undermines the point. We also get very few lines or involvement from any Native women, which again feels like it misses the mark in a movie theoretically about them.  

Final Verdict: There are some great things in this film, but it feels a bit overwrought in the dialogue and underthought in the casting and creation of characters. While so many movies look great on paper and fail in execution; this is the rare opposite case - everything was done as well as it could have been, but the core concepts of the movie's casting and dialogue brought it down several notches. 

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