Movie Review: Wind River

Actor Jeremy Renner discusses his lead role in a modern Western

Wind River
Directed by Taylor Sheridan
With Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Gil Birmingham, Jon Bernthal, Julia Jones, Kelsey Chow, Graham Greene, Martin Sensmeier

A crime on a Native American reservation opens some insight into the conditions that exist there. Wind River, set on a vast reservation of the same name in Wyoming, updates the ideas of the Western genre and raises topical issues. It also presents a compelling mystery thriller, with a focus on characters and the reasons behind their actions.

Jeremy Renner plays Cory Lambert, a tracker for the US Fish and Wildlife service. While looking for a mountain lion that has been attacking cattle, he finds the frozen body of a Native American woman, barefoot and miles from the closest shelter. Lambert recognizes the young woman as Natalie, and his conection to her is slowly revealed.

Because it occurred on federal land, the FBI is called in. But just one agent shows up, rookie Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), who is based in Las Vegas but happened to be in the area for a conference. She is completely unprepared for winter in the mountains, but wants to see justice done. It won't be easy, as people are mistrustful of the federal authorities.

Wind River features a large number of Native American actors with substantial speaking roles, a change from most Westerns, where they are seen at a distance and often played by non-native actors.

Jeremy Renner was at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in July to talk about the film. While the film was being made, the topic of oil pipelines running through Native American land hit the headlines. “The movie ends up being topical, a hot button discussion, but the movie is not intended or made for that reason. I think we are lucky that it is topical,” Renner said at a press conference. “We were shooting a character drama on reservations, [a film] about community, about things that go on on these reservations.”

Renner has been is several big-budget action franchises such as the Avengers, Mission Impossible, and one of the Bourne films. He was attracted by the chance to be in a character-driven drama that didn't rely on visual effects. “There's a lot of things I was attracted to [such as] story telling. A lot of people know me as a guy who does a lot of action movies, but I certainly don't feel that I am. There are so many more things I want to be recognized for. Things that I know how to do and love to do. … So this was a great reason to get back to work and learn and grow, and be challenged,” he said.

“Wind River is an important script with important characters and a wonderful director. … People have an appetite for something that stimulates their brains, stimulates their heart, makes them think something different and feel something different than when they bought that ticket. That's the kind of movie I like to do,” Renner said

“Don't get me wrong, I like to do big movies that are escapism, but I also think there are audiences who are begging for something to escape into and in order to grow and feel and be connected with. Everybody in this planet is connected through human emotion. Everyone feels human emotion … and that is expressed a lot of time through independent film,” he added.

He also wanted the opportunity to work with Elizabeth Olsen again. The two are both part of the Avenger's franchise. Renner plays Hawkeye and Olsen plays Scarlet Witch. “She was one of the reasons I wanted to do the film. I got to know her pretty well on two of the Avenger movies, so it was a great opportunity to work with a friend in a different capacity. We actually dive into some emotional character stuff,” he said.

“There was a lot of great shorthand that we had, because we knew each other and trusted each other. I was able to do things that maybe would have been a little different if it was an actress I didn't know. She was one of the main reasons why I wanted to go do that,” he said.

He said he got along with first-time director Taylor Sheridan, who also wrote the script. “He is quite a well-known writer. As a director, he and I saw eye to eye. He's sort of a brass tacks sort of guy … and that is who I am, so we got along really well. He's super smart, hyper intelligent. I loved working with him. I hope to continue working with him,” he said.

Taylor Sheridan's previous efforts as a writer include Sicario and Hell or High Water, both of which are modern-day thrillers set in the western part of the US.

Wind River claims to be a true story, but that is not exactly correct. It is a composite of many cases of violence against Native American women, which often go uninvestigated. Statistics aren't even kept because the reservations have their own legal systems.

“The characters are fictional, but similar atrocities do take place frequently in such places. The crime against Natives is twofold, however. The state drove these people into the darkest corners of the country. But this community should be celebrated, not overlooked,” Renner said after one of the screenings.

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