Wind River ★★★★½

"Luck don't live here."

It is so refreshing to see a movie like this. Wind River easily could've fallen victim to one of two issues -- it could've been a tense thriller that exploits its sensitive subject matter, or it could've been a very meaningful, educational drama that puts half the audience to sleep. What Taylor Sheridan instead brings to the screen is a gripping, emotionally impactful, visceral and intellectual film that shines a light on a very real problem in unambiguous terms. Most viewers may come to this film for the action and the mystery, and while they will be satisfied with what they receive, they will leave the theater with a greater awareness of an issue that affects a community they likely have little knowledge of, and that is effective filmmaking.

This was stressful. There were several points where I audibly gasped, swore, or felt my entire body tense. Sheridan's direction in conjunction with the fantastic cinematography were perfectly suited for the material and made already-tense sequences pulse with energy. The camera occasionally became too shaky, particularly in some of the dialogue scenes, but it was never a significant detractor. I became fully invested in Wind River early on, as soon as it so expertly introduced its cast of characters. The writing is exceptional, and brilliant performances further sell the material. A handful of moments wander a bit too far off track, creating brief narrative plateaus, but the rich characterization these scenes achieve make them worth the time they take up.

I've never seen so many Native actors in one film, and this alone likely has more Native cast members than all the wide-release films from the last several years combined. These actors are really fantastic, and the script presents them as just as competent or vulnerable as any of the White characters. Their community is so clearly neglected by the government, and as a result, their issues are countless, but it is not a fault of their own weakness. They do not complain about the situation. Instead, they do their jobs the best they can, just as anyone else would.

I'd like to pull back for a moment and speak specifically about Jeremy Renner's character. There are multiple White characters who work on or near the reservation, and many of them are just deplorable. They have no respect for the land they live on or the people it belongs to. Renner's character is different. He respects the community he works with, and he never expresses even a single thought of judgement towards their traditions or values. He's the father of a Native son, and he never tries to erase that part of his son's identity. He explicitly reminds his son of his ancestry and the strength he comes from, and it's fantastic to see. It's very, very upsetting to have a White parent who invalidates your racial identity, so I was really moved by the scenes of Renner's character and his son. I'm not saying he's a hero for not being racist, but it's just nice to see someone who knows how to raise their child right.

Wind River is a tough watch in several moments, perhaps too tough, but it is ultimately a rewarding experience. Moments of beautiful intimacy between characters give this film a kindness that is desperately needed, and while it is upsetting, it never becomes hopeless. This is a tough world, but there is love in it. Loss is inevitable, but recovery and healing is what follows. I felt so many strong emotions throughout these two hours, and all of them arose naturally, without manipulation. I would love to see more movies like this in the future, but for now, it's amazing on its own.

Rating: 90/100

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