The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Wind River

Taylor Sheridan, the writer of Sicario and Hell or High Water, delivers a stunning directorial effort with Wind River. The carefully-paced story unfolds in such a way that you forget about the world around you and become fully immersed. There's more going on than it appears on the surface, so each minute brings a new piece that helps both the plot and the themes click into place. When the end credits start to roll, you feel devastated by what you've seen, yet also invigorated by how meaningfully the tale has been told.

The story is set on a Native-American reservation in Wyoming. Jeremy Renner plays Cory Lambert, a professional game tracker. He stumbles upon the body of a teenage girl in the snow, barefoot and miles from the nearest structure. How she got there is a mystery. The FBI sends in an agent, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), not because she's skilled in this sort of thing but because she's close by. When it is determined that the girl was sexually assaulted before her death, Jane becomes intent on finding out who's responsible. She asks Cory to help her. He agrees because he's got his own agenda. The trail leads them to uncover some shocking revelations about what's happening on the reservation.

Wind River works on a number of levels. Most obviously, it's a stellar murder mystery. Cory uses his skills to make some vital deductions about which direction the girl came from, why that matters, and where danger might lurk. Each new development he and Jane uncover reveals more of the horrifying truth. The film doesn't need the sort of artificially breathless pace you normally see in mysteries because the plot turns are sufficiently dramatic on their own. In fact, the methodical pace allows for the significance of every clue to sink in.

At the same time, the film is very much a meditation on grief. Cory empathizes with the dead girl's father because he, too, has suffered a significant loss. In helping to identify her killer, he hopes to somehow heal a little of his own grief, as well as some of the guilt he has internalized. One very powerful scene has Cory offering some coping advice to the father (nicely played by Gil Birmingham). His wisdom is impressive, and we know that he's delivering it as much to himself as to the other man.

Also embedded into the story is a look at some of the struggles of life on Native-American reservations. Jane points out that the tribal police chief (Graham Greene) has six men to cover an area the size of Rhode Island, making it virtually impossible for any given crime to be solved. Wind River makes an interesting point about how poor economic conditions, insufficient law enforcement, and an overall lack of opportunity can combine to create the potential for bad things to happen.

Without a doubt, there's a lot to unpack here. Sheridan lays it all out in lean, efficient fashion. The material gives the actors room to dig in deep. Renner is outstanding as a man changed by his sorrow and driven by a repressed sense of anger. He gets a showstopping scene near the end where Cory lets out some of his rage in a calm, quiet manner that belies what he's feeling. Olsen, meanwhile, brings real weight to the role of the FBI agent whose empathy for the victim grows the more she learns. The actress suggests that Jane mentally puts herself in the girl's shoes.

Wind River represents mature, substantive filmmaking at its finest. It is a solid mystery that avoids cheap theatrics in favor of methodically examining how evil festers most easily in the places where nobody is looking.

( out of four)

Wind River is rated R for strong violence, a rape, disturbing images, and language. The running time is 1 hour and 47 minutes.

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