Wind River (film)
Wind River is a 2017 neo-Western murder mystery film written and directed by Taylor Sheridan. The film stars Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen as a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tracker and an FBI agent, respectively, who try to solve a murder on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. Gil Birmingham, Jon Bernthal and Graham Greene also star.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Taylor Sheridan|
|Written by||Taylor Sheridan|
|Edited by||Gary D. Roach|
|Distributed by||The Weinstein Company[a]|
|Box office||$45 million|
Sheridan has said that he wrote the film to raise awareness of the issue of the high number of Indigenous women who are raped and murdered, both on and off reservations.
Wind River premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and was released in the United States on August 4, 2017. The film received generally positive reviews from critics and was a box office success, grossing $45 million against an $11 million budget. It was theatrically released by The Weinstein Company (TWC), but in October 2017, following the reporting of numerous sexual abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein, the film's distribution rights for home media were acquired by Lionsgate. Weinstein's credits and logo were omitted on home media and streaming services, which resulted in TWC losing distribution rights.
During the winter on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, expert tracker and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent Cory Lambert discovers the frozen body of 18-year-old Natalie Hanson in the snow. Her body is barefoot, without proper winter attire, miles from any building, and has a blood-stained forehead and groin. FBI Special Agent Jane Banner arrives to investigate a possible homicide, because the FBI has jurisdiction over murder cases on reservations. The next day, Banner learns from Natalie's father, Martin, that his daughter was dating a new boyfriend, but he does not know the man's name or where he lives. The autopsy shows blunt trauma and sexual violence and confirms Lambert's deduction that the girl died from exposure. She suffered pulmonary hemorrhage caused by rapid inhalation of sub-zero air. However, the medical examiner is unable to confirm the death as a homicide, and Agent Banner cannot get additional help from FBI investigators.
Lambert discovers that Natalie's "new boyfriend" was Matt Rayburn, who works security at a nearby oil drilling site. The next day, Matt's body is discovered, nude and already ravaged by scavenging wildlife. Lambert tells Agent Banner about his own daughter's death three years earlier. Her body was discovered in the snow, following a party at their house while he and his wife were away. No one was charged in her death.
Banner, accompanied by Tribal Police Chief Ben Shoyo and two county police officers, visit the drill site where they are met by several of the company's security guards. They claim that Matt had stormed off a few days ago, following an argument with Natalie, and has not been seen since. One guard mentions that they heard about Natalie's body being found by monitoring law enforcement radio channels. Agent Banner notes that the victim's name had not been released. One of the police officers notices that the security guards are slowly surrounding Agent Banner and her team. The confrontation quickly escalates into an armed standoff as they argue over who has jurisdiction. Agent Banner defuses the situation by asserting FBI authority. She asks to see where Matt was bunking, and they resume their approach to the trailer.
A flashback shows Natalie in bed with Matt in his trailer, in what seems like a loving relationship. Unexpectedly, Matt's security colleagues barge into the trailer after a night of hard drinking. Pete, Matt's roommate, taunts them and tries to sexually assault Natalie, which provokes Matt to violence. The other guards retaliate by beating Matt down while Pete rapes Natalie. Matt's attempt to fight back gives Natalie an opportunity to escape, while the group bludgeon their co-worker to death.
Back in the present, Lambert has retraced the tracks from where Matt's corpse was found back to the drilling camp. Meanwhile, Agent Banner and the three police men approach the security crew's sleeping quarters. Lambert, looking down at the group from a distance, radios a warning to Police Chief Shoyo. But Agent Banner is wounded in the chest by a shotgun blast fired through the door by Pete. An all-out firefight ensues at point-blank range. Chief Shoyo and the other two officers are killed. Just as the surviving security guards prepare to execute Agent Banner, Lambert kills four with his high caliber rifle. Pete, also wounded, flees on foot. Lambert catches him and, at gunpoint, takes the guard up to the foot of Gannett Peak. After forcing his confession related to Natalie and Matt, Lambert offers him the same chance as Natalie had: he can run barefoot to a distant road wearing only light-weight clothing, rather than being shot. Pete runs but quickly succumbs as his lungs give out from the frigid air, suffering a pulmonary hemorrhage.
When Lambert visits Banner in the hospital, he praises her toughness. He later visits Martin, Natalie's bereaved father, and finds him sitting outside his house wearing his "death face" paint and holding a handgun. Lambert tells Martin that the case is closed and that the man responsible for Natalie's death went out, "with a whimper." They share grief over their daughters' deaths. A title card follows this scene, stating that missing-persons statistics are kept for every demographic group except for Native American women, whose numbers remain unknown.
- Jeremy Renner as Cory Lambert, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent. He discovers Hanson's frozen body and evidence of her flight across a snowy landscape. FBI special agent Jane Banner recruits him to help her solve the case. He uses the case as redemption for his teenage daughter Emily, who was found dead three years before.
- Elizabeth Olsen as Jane Banner, a rookie FBI special agent. She recruits Lambert as her tracker.
- Graham Greene as Ben Shoyo, Tribal Police Chief. He assists Lambert and Banner to solve the possible murder of Natalie Hanson.
- Kelsey Chow as Natalie Hanson, Martin and Annie's daughter and Chip's sister. She was best friends with Cory's late daughter, Emily. Her death is the main catalyst for the events of the film.
- Gil Birmingham as Martin Hanson, Annie's husband and Chip and Natalie's father. He is also Lambert's close friend.
- Julia Jones as Wilma Lambert, Cory's ex-wife and mother of Emily and Casey.
- Martin Sensmeier as Chip Hanson, Martin and Annie's son and Natalie's brother. He is a drug addict.
- Althea Sam as Annie Hanson, Martin's wife and mother of Chip and Natalie.
- Teo Briones as Casey Lambert, son of Cory and Wilma.
- Apesanahkwat as Dan Crowheart, Wilma's father.
- Tantoo Cardinal as Alice Crowheart, Wilma's mother.
- Jon Bernthal as Matt Rayburn, Natalie's boyfriend.
- James Jordan as Pete Mickens, one of Matt's co-workers.
- Hugh Dillon as Curtis, Matt's superior.
- Matthew Del Negro as Dillon, Matt's co-worker.
- Austin Grant as Carl.
- Ian Bohen as Evan, a Fremont County Sheriff deputy
- Eric Lange as Dr. Randy Whitehurst, medical examiner who conducts the autopsy on Natalie's body.
- Tyler Laracca as Frank Walker, Chip's friend and a drug dealer.
- Gerald Tokala Clifford as Sam Littlefeather, Chip's friend and a drug dealer.
According to Sheridan, he was inspired to write this film because he learned about the "thousands of actual stories just like it": referring to the high number of Indigenous women who are victims of sexual assault and/or murder. He wrote and directed the movie to make more people aware of this problem.
The film is the third installment of Taylor Sheridan's trilogy of "the modern-day American frontier", the first being Sicario in 2015, and Hell or High Water the next year. Principal photography on the film began on March 12, 2016 in Utah and lasted until April 25, 2016.
The Weinstein Company acquired the distribution rights on May 13, 2016, during the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. In January 2017, it was announced that the company would no longer distribute the film, but the distribution deal was later finalized. It had a limited release on August 4, 2017, before going wide on August 18.
In October 2017, following reporting on the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal, Lionsgate announced that it would distribute the film on home media and streaming services. The Weinstein Company (TWC) name and logo were omitted from the credits, trailer, and packaging. As a result, The Weinstein Company finally stopped distributing the film. Sheridan had required that TWC be deleted from the materials, and demanded that all money Weinstein would have made on this work be donated to charity.
Wind River grossed $33.8 million in the United States and Canada and $11.2 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $45 million, against a production budget of $11 million.
In the film's limited opening weekend, it made $161,558 from four theaters (a per-location average of $40,390, one of the best of 2017), finishing 29th at the box office. In its second week, the film expanded to 45 theaters and grossed $622,567. The film expanded to 694 theaters on August 18 and grossed $3 million, finishing 10th at the box office. The following week the film was added to an additional 1,401 theaters (for a total of 2,095) and made $4.6 million (an increase of 54.6%), finishing 4th at the box office. The film opened in another 507 theaters and made $5.7 million the following weekend, and an estimated $7.2 million over the four-day Labor Day weekend, finishing in the 2nd spot at the U.S. box office consistently for the next 13 days. It was the 6th-highest grossing indie film of 2017.
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 88% based on 249 reviews, with an average rating of 7.67/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Wind River lures viewers into a character-driven mystery with smart writing, a strong cast, and a skillfully rendered setting that delivers the bitter chill promised by its title." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 73 out of 100, based on 44 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by PostTrak gave the film a 90% overall positive score and a 70% "definite recommend".
Owen Gleiberman of Variety described Wind River as a "humanistic crime drama, though this one has more skill than excitement". Chris Plante of The Verge described it as "a thrilling, violent finale to the Hell or High Water and Sicario trilogy", and as "Coen brothers noir meets the case of the week."
Writing for Rolling Stone, Peter Travers praised Sheridan's direction and the cast, giving the film 3/4 stars. He wrote: "[It's] the set-up for what could have been a conventional whodunit – thankfully, Sheridan is allergic to all things conventional. To him, the action is character, and he's lucked out by finding actors who not only understand his approach but thrive on it." David Ehrlich of IndieWire gave the film a B, writing: "[If] Wind River shares Sheridan’s self-evident weaknesses, it also makes the most of his signature strengths. [...] Wind River may not blow you away, but this bitter, visceral, and almost paradoxically intense thriller knows what it takes to survive."
In a High Country News article titled "Why do white writers keep making films about Indian Country?", Native commentator Jason Asenap praises the film as "a thinking-person's thriller" full of complex characters, and describes the film's focus on missing Native American women as "admirable." He criticizes the film for perpetuating the "dying Indians" motif:
"at least in Hollywood, the Indians die. To this day, the Indians die, and not just physically, but culturally. Simpson and Sheridan are invested in making us see how America has screwed Native people, but to the point of rubbing it in our faces. Is it so terrible to live in one’s own homeland? It may be hard to get out, but it certainly feels condescending for a non-Native to write as much."
The filmmakers were criticized for casting non-Native actors in some of the Native American roles. Kelsey Chow had been advertised as Eastern Band Cherokee, leading the Eastern Band Cherokee to issue a statement that she is neither an enrolled member nor descended from the tribe.
|Award||Date of ceremony||Category||Recipient(s) and nominee(s)||Result||Ref(s)|
|Cannes Film Festival||May 28, 2017||Prix Un Certain Regard||Taylor Sheridan||Nominated|||
|Un Certain Regard for Best Director||Taylor Sheridan||Won|
|Caméra d'Or||Taylor Sheridan||Nominated|
|National Board of Review||November 28, 2017||Top Ten Independent Film||Wind River||Won|||
|Satellite Awards||February 11, 2018||Best Actor||Jeremy Renner||Nominated|||
|Saturn Awards||June 27, 2018||Best Thriller Film||Wind River||Nominated|||
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