Posted on August 25, 2017
The most subversive people I can think of are the people at Alamo Drafthouse who put together the pre-show entertainment. They have the ability to find the most arcane material that is only tangentially applicable to the movie it plays in front of, and yet, somehow, can also be a clever commentary.
Such was the case for Wind River. We were treated to a very long Carmen Miranda music video complete with an army of fake Latinos, white people in brown face displaying every known Mexican stereotype for the cameras. It was funny and anachronistic, but I had no idea what it had to do with a movie that takes place in the snows of Wyoming.
Eventually, I got it. Whitewashing.
Wind River is another movie, in 2017 no less, where a white man goes around explaining stuff to Native Americans. Why would a movie that takes place on a reservation have a Caucasian hunter/tracker? This was a perfect chance to use racial stereotypes against themselves by having a Native American play the lead.
Wind River has an 85% on Rotten Tomatoes and no one has brought up this missed opportunity, so I guess I’m alone here, but I felt like it was slow and monotonous. Jeremy Renner’s one note, low energy performance gave me time to wonder why the makeup department didn’t do something about his pores. The closeups were positively brutal to his skin.
Elizabeth Olsen turned in a fine performance. She and Gil Birmingham portrayed the only two characters who brought emotional depth to the movie. Everyone else is very… stoic.
(Spoilers for Wind River follow)
Wind River also fails (for me) as a whodunit. It’s not structured properly for that. We get the opening shot of the victim dying, and there’s a little bit of an investigation but nothing we can get emotionally involved in, and then there’s the shootout, and finally the act of vengeance that we only knew was necessary from a moment before.
Typically, a film will give time to the villain so we know he’s got it coming and for us to build up a reserve of bile towards him. That allows us to achieve some kind of virtual catharsis when he gets his due. With the exposure of the crime so near the end of the movie, there’s no time for us to get into the vengeance. It’s just putting down a rabid dog.
This might have worked as a vengeance story. If we had seen the attack in full at the beginning, there could have been a cat and mouse game between the killers and Renner/Olsen that culminated with Renner’s character becoming a relentless, unforgiving bringer of justice. That way, the movie would have earned its ending.
It’s not a bad movie, but given the slow pace, Renner’s monotone performance, and the weird, unsatisfying structure, it’s not a very good one, either.