Mike at the Movies

Wind River (R) ****

This is one violent, harsh, forbidding film. Jeremy Renner anchors the piece as Cory Lambert, Fish and Wildlife agent in Wind River, Wyoming. The time is winter and Lambert discovers the body of a young Indian woman, frozen to death in the woods. There is evidence of a rape of a violent nature, but Lambert is forced to call the FBI since the apparent murder is on federal land.

Assisting Lambert is Ben (Graham Greene), a Native American policeman and fantastic figure as the story unwinds. Jane Banner is the rookie FBI agent sent to the case (Elizabeth Olsen, youngest sister of the famous twins), and she immediately enlists the help of Lambert as she knows nothing about Wyoming, cold, Native Americans or pretty much everything she is faced with. (She is a glamorous native of Fort Lauderdale!)

The story starts as a conflict between whites and Native Americans with white corporate workers being the prime suspects in the rape of the girl. The conflict moves to one between the various agencies investigating the case: FBI, Fish and Wildlife, BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) officers, and the corporate occupiers of much of the land. While all of the conflicts are touched upon, none is satisfactorily triumphant.

One of the most chilling scenes in a rough movie is a standoff of all the various agencies holding each other at gunpoint until Banner stops the potential disaster. Lambert’s primary job is killing pumas that are decimating cattle and sheep populations. He is therefore a good shot and has a sniper rifle to use, which he uses in the ultimate gunfight to great and gory effect.

I found the film fascinating, but I quibble with the low soundtrack level (except when snowmobiles are racing by) and the use of hand-held cameras in some tense scenes that needed the intensity and single vision of a fixed camera. Sensitive actors delicately present the Native American case, and Renner’s Lambert is staunch and heroic. Asked how he got his job, he responds, “I had choices of who to fight for and I chose to fight the puma instead.” In another scene he sympathizes with a Native American friend, Martin (Gil Birmingham), whose daughter turns out to be the victim Renner discovered. He is sitting with Martin while he is in face paint. Asked what this means, Martin responds, “This is my death face, supposedly. There’s no one left to teach me.”

The size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined, Wind River is Wyoming’s only Native American reservation. Its 14,000 residents suffer daily the inhumanity portrayed in the film. It is part of the impact of this remarkable piece of cinema.