“Wind River”


            “Wind River” is a rough-edged tale of the New West.  It may be Spring elsewhere, but it's still freezing in rural Wyoming.  On the Indian Reservation, life is always hardscrabble.  Not many great jobs.  A scattering of small-time ranchers.  Some roughneck oil field workers.  Some under-the-radar drifters and slackers.  Not much soft cosmopolitanism.  No metro males here. 

            Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) officially works for the Fish and Wildlife Department, but really, he's a game tracker.  He hunts the predators who are killing the herds.  He drives a truck where he can, a snowmobile when necessary, and walks when he has to.  There's a fierce independence about him, and a sadness, also, which we begin to understand when we learn that he lost his teenage daughter, which apparently tore apart his marriage, as well.  He sees his young son sometimes, but he finds there's not much gas left in his emotional tank.

            One snowy day, while tracking a mountain lion, he happens to find a human corpse----a young woman who's apparently been murdered.  This brings not only the local law enforcement, in the person of the BIA sheriff, Ben (Graham Greene), but also the FBI, in the person of Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen).  Ben is wise, practical, and knowledgeable, but tending toward the world-weary, from facing the seemingly insoluble social problems on the reservation where he lives and works.  Jane is a green tinhorn who at least has sense enough to know when to accept help.  She and Cory make an unlikely pairing, and they usually want to go in opposite directions.  She wants to go around asking questions of everybody, he wants to go out alone and investigate the tracks in the snow, and learn from them.

            The most poignant scenes are Cory's encounters with Martin (Gil Birmingham), the father of the deceased girl.  Martin does not want to grieve in front of strangers, and won't show his emotion to any FBI agent.  But Cory stands with him on his porch, and tells him about the time that he went to a grief group session, once, and one thing the counselor said stood out in his mind:  “I've got good news and bad news.  The bad news is you'll never get over it.  The good news is that if you allow yourself to feel the grief, then you'll retain the rest of your feelings about her, including the good memories.  But if you put yourself in a place where you don't feel the pain, you'll lose all your feelings for her, including the good ones.” 

            Well, it's better than most platitudes.  Martin's got a son left, as well, who's already gotten himself in trouble, but Cory says, “Go easy on him.  He needs you, and he's all you got left.”  And then he sits with his friend in silence for a while, just lending his empathetic presence.

            We could all use a friend like Cory.  Jane finds this out, too, as well as discovering that Cory's loyalties don't wane when the bullets start flying, either.

            It's a hard-edged story with very few soft and warm spots, but they're memorable.


Questions for Discussion:

1)                  What's the best time you've ever had in snow?  The worst?

2)                  When have you been put in a job situation where you had no idea what to do next?

3)                  When the chips are down, who's got your back?  And whose back do you have?


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association