Wind River is painful to watch. That’s not because it’s poorly made, or because it’s disgusting, or any other possible negative aspect; this isn’t some abhorrent or trashy film…it’s practically a masterpiece. That’s why it hurts, though. This is a film about loss, and grief, and horrible, gut-wrenching, brain-splattering tragedy. Yet, unlike almost every sad drama I’ve seen, Wind River pulls no punches. Wind River doesn’t care that it hurts. Seeing this might cause someone to need painkillers because it’s unbelievably harsh and effective to a point at which the audience is on a train and they passed Reason and Sensibility 3 stops back. They’re at the end of the line now and they’re pretty sure there’s been a mistake because the rails just end with a sign which states “Goodbye.” It’s also beautifully shot, especially considering the vast emptiness in much of the film’s landscapes. A less competent filmmaker would end up with boring stills of snow. That’s not how this was done, however. Actually, this film could have been simple and formulaic; the story is not far from that of a generic thriller film, yet it’s handled so brilliantly that it moves past the notion of normalcy.
I cannot express enough the harrowing experience of watching this film. I was reminded of Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby (which also involves punching) in how gloomy and dire the film is. That’s a great film, and Wind River is better. There’s a persistent bleakness which perhaps escapes the film itself and attacks the psyche of any who dare enjoy it. Still, the effect such a film has had on me is amazing and terrible in its grandeur. This is no sprawling epic, no immensely packed film with many high profile actors and lavish set pieces. This is a low-budget mystery thriller and it’s probably the best it could be. Also, the soundtrack was good, but not especially memorable, unfortunately. That’s probably the biggest flaw, overall.
Wind River delivers and causes me to quiver and shiver. There’s little to say about the story or characters without possibly spoiling important narrative points, and so, I can divulge little but the utmost praise for each. However, perhaps the most shocking aspect of Wind River, personally, was the idea that Jeremy Renner can be an excellent actor. I’ve seen him in ~10 movies, and I’ve always thought he brought each of them down, and that he should have been recast (Yes, even in The Avengers). To my surprise, he gives a subtle, muted, quiet performance while showing a significant contrast in emotions. He has a range and depth in this movie which I would not have expected to see. Elizabeth Olsen is also a tour de force in this role, which was also surprising, albeit less so. I’ve seen very little of her, however, this film has caused me to wonder what more she can bring to films from now on.
This snags a spot in the Salient category. It’s perfect on a technical level, extremely engaging, and remarkably enticing. This is an exotic gem of a movie, a rare and precious artifact, something to be appreciated and cherished persistently. Wind River represents the acme of its genre, and deserves to be seen by many, even if it leaves a sour taste in one’s mouth. Tyler Sheridan is doubtlessly one of the greatest modern filmmakers. Expect this one to win multiple academy awards.