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Film / Wind River

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Jane Banner: How far do you think someone could run barefoot out here?
Cory Lambert: Oh, I don't know. How do you gauge someone's will to live, especially in these conditions? But I knew that girl. She's a fighter. So, no matter how far you think she ran, I guarantee you, she ran farther.

Wind River is a 2017 crime drama/thriller written and directed by Sicario and Hell or High Water screenwriter Taylor Sheridan.

The film stars Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen as US Fish and Wildlife hunter Cory Lambert and FBI agent Jane Banner respectively who team up with local police to solve a murder of a young woman on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. Like many of Sheridan's films, Wind River draws off of Western iconography in a modern setting to cast light on contemporary issues: in this case, the ongoing neglect of Native Americans by the U.S. federal government and the resulting problems of poverty, drug abuse, and violence.

This film provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: Jane more than takes care of herself when the bullets start flying. She fatally shoots Sam Littlefeather while blinded by bear spray. In the final shootout, she takes out one of the security guards. In spite of all that, she still needs to be rescued in the end.
  • Addled Addict: Natalie's brother and his friends.
  • An Aesop: The film is not subtle at all about its message that Native Americans are treated abysmally, from government neglect to corporate exploitation to staggeringly high rates of unsolved rapes and murders.
  • Agony of the Feet: Played for Drama; Natalie is found barefoot in the snow, her feet thoroughly frostbitten and miles from the nearest place she could have run from. It's ultimately revealed that she in fact ran from an even more distant location, nearly six miles. When Cory captures Pete, he takes his boots as well. He is barely able to run a few yards in the snow on his own frozen feet before he falls over and dies.
  • Ambiguously Trained: Cory is a crack shot with his rifle, though since it's his job to track and kill animals that endanger livestock, he'd kind of have to be, right? But towards the film's climax, Cory expertly guns down several human targets with ruthless efficiency; he shows no hesitation nor does he exhibit any deal of remorse or doubt after the fact. You could almost figure him for a former military special operator, though what he did for work prior to working for the Fish and Wildlife Service is never brought up.
  • Amicable Exes: Cory tries to be this with his ex-wife, but she's too traumatized by the death of their daughter and eager to leave the reservation to reciprocate.
  • Asshole Victim: Nobody is going to miss Pete.
  • Bait-and-Switch: When Jane knocks on the bunk door for the unseen Pete to answer, we cut to a man in the bathroom hearing a knock at the door. But when he opens the door, it's Natalie, revealing that the man is Matt, and this is a flashback.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: A mild example for Jane. By the end credits, apart from lying in a hospital bed, she doesn't really look as if she's taken a shotgun blast to the torso. Still, her vest caught almost all of it, and the resulting bruises and stray pellet wounds probably weren't in places that would normally be visible to the public. What's really egregious, though, is the absence of any lasting effects from getting bear-sprayed by Sam. No bloodshot eyes, no swollen eyelids, no mucus membranes in overdrive (although there is a Vomit Discretion Shot). In all fairness, Ben was also bear-sprayed and he didn't suffer any lasting effects either.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Cory coldly snipes the well field's security force as they mow down Jane's task team, before they can kill her too.
  • Bittersweet Ending: All the bad guys die, Cory and Jane survive, and Martin is rebuilding his relationship with his son. It comes at the cost of nearly all of the tribal police force, and everyone still has to live with the trauma and conditions of the reservation.
  • Blast Out: The situation between the deputies and the security guards at the drill site is extremely tense, and one Mexican Standoff has already been talked down. Then someone thinks he can get the drop on Jane by firing when she is not expecting it; through a closed door. A massive firefight ensues, with Jane ironically being one of the few survivors.
  • Blown Across the Room:
    • During the final shootout, one guy is knocked over a table and slammed into a trailer wall by a high-caliber hunting round.
    • Additionally, when Pete kicks off the firefight by shooting Jane through the door with a shotgun, the force is enough to send her flying back a handful of feet.
  • Bring It: One of the deputies after being wounded and reloading his weapon at the same time as the security guard who shot him after both were wounded.
    Deputy Evan: Fuck you, let's go.
  • Broken Aesop: The film's criticism of the US Government's tepid response to violence against Native Americans and the lack of infrastructure and action towards protecting missing and murdered Indigenous women is heavily undermined by Cory's speech in the third act. His claims that there is no luck and only the strong survive inadvertently implies that Natives Natalie and Emily were both 'too weak'note  and thus they 'deserved' to be murdered while the white Janenote  somehow 'deserved' to live.
  • Bulletproof Vest: Everyone at the Blast Out is wearing one, and they all work. Results in multiple participants ending up on the ground in pain but still alive...until someone shoots them in the head.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Show of hands. When all the guns came out for the Mexican Standoff, but Jane managed to get things back under control, did anyone actually think they'd gone away for the rest of the movie?
    • The mountain lions that killed Dan Crowheart's cow turn out to be important too. Although Matt's remains are discovered being nibbled on by an eagle instead, the snowmobile tracks that Cory sees later near the lions' den lead him to the realization that Matt was killed at the well field and dumped farther up the mountain.
  • Closest Thing We Got: It's pretty clear from the moment Jane walks in that she's a woefully unprepared rookie who was only called in because she happened to be the closest agent in the area (she was on her way to Las Vegas when she was redirected and doesn't even have any suitable clothes). When the residents are slow to open up to her, she even tells them point-blank that she's the best they're going to get unless they can find more evidence to compel the FBI to send more help.
  • Cold Sniper: In both a literal and figurative sense, Cory. Put on chilling display in the final shootout, where he kills all of the drill security who killed Natalie, Matt, Ben, and the deputies without missing a shot in the span of a few seconds, all without ever being spotted thanks to his snow camo.
  • Conditioned to Accept Horror: A tragically realistic case with Ben, the Tribal Police Chief. Jane is often horrified to learn just how bad conditions are in the Neglected Rez, and how much the system is rigged against the people receiving any kind of justice, but Ben is an old cop who's Seen It All.
    Jane: [after stating the case won't get solved without further FBI assistance] No offense.
    Ben: None taken. I'm used to not receiving any help.
  • Critical Staffing Shortage: Ben Shoyo, the chief of the Wind River Tribal Police, has only 6 officers working for him to police an area the size of Rhode Island. They have to rely on the neighboring Fremont County Sheriff's Department for forensics and crime scene investigation, and towards the end also have to get two officers with the Bureau of Indian Affairs Police to join them to boost the numbers for when they attend the oil rig. Even then they are almost outnumbered by the private security guards, allowing them to be massacred when things turn ugly.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Natalie, though surviving her rape and attack, ended up dying by drowning in her own blood out in the cold. Pete, her rapist, has the same agonizing death inflicted upon him at the end of the film.
  • Culture Clash: Jane to the residents of Wind River. She means well, but most of her standard missing persons FBI questions come across as Innocently Insensitive at best. For example, she subtly accuses Natalie's father of Parental Neglect for not noticing or reporting his teenage daughter being missing, due to letting her move in with an older white boyfriend whom he'd never met and whose name he didn't even know. Martin coldly retorts that Natalie was an adult whom he trusted to make the right decisions about her own life.
    Martin: She was eighteen. She was an adult.
    Jane: Uh, barely.
  • Cut Apart: Used to shift from Jane knocking on the door of the trailer at the drill site to the flashback depicting Matt's murder and Natalie's gang-rape.
  • The Determinator: Natalie, which Cory is well aware of; see the page quote above.
  • Dirty Coward: Pete spends most of the shootout cowering in his trailer. After Cory kills the last of his friends, he makes a run for it.
  • Exact Words: At the end of the movie Cory says that if Pete confesses to his crimes, "I'll give you a chance". Once Pete does so, Cory reveals that his chance is to run six miles through the wilderness to the nearest road in sub-zero weather while wounded, frostbitten and unsure of where he is. Needless to say, Pete doesn't make it.
  • Fair Cop: Jane is an attractive FBI agent. One of the local women flatly comments, with a faint hint of derision, on the fact that she's thin.
  • False Reassurance: Cory promises to let Pete go if he'll just admit what he did to Matt and Natalie. Being a man of his word, he does exactly that, leaving him barefoot, wounded, in sub-freezing weather, six miles from anyone who could help him.
  • Fanservice: About a minute after Jane is introduced, she is shown changing into warmer clothes and we get a shot of her in a thong.
  • Flashback: How we eventually learn about the circumstances leading up to Natalie's death
  • Flashback Echo: Jane knocks on a trailer door to speak with one of the oil rig guards. We then see a view from the interior of the trailer of a man answering a knock on the door; however, he opens it to reveal Natalie, not Jane, showing that this is actually a flashback.
  • For Want Of A Nail: Pete's interest in Natalie is sparked by glimpsing her in her underwear a split second before she can close the bathroom door. If he had come inside a moment later, the whole thing might have been averted.
  • Foreshadowing: Referencing Natalie's toughness, Cory states that however far you thought she could have run barefoot in the snow, she ran farther. This ends up being true when we learn that she ran not 3.5 miles from the nearest structure (a trailer full of drug addicts whose involvement everyone suspected), but rather 6 miles from the oil drilling site.
  • Genre Mashup: Western/crime procedural/revenge thriller.
  • Going Native: Cory, a white man who married a Native American woman and fathered two kids with her. Even after their daughter died and they got a divorce, he came to love the reservation, culture, and people so much he decided to stay. He's actually the one to encourage his ex-wife to stay on the Rez, let their son stay in touch with his maternal grandparents, and learn the ways of his people, while she's the one who's eager to cut and run.
  • Good Guns, Bad Guns: Cory uses a lever-action rifle fitting the New Old West setting. The drill security has an automatic (or heavily modified) rifle they use to ruthlessly mow down the police, contrasting markedly with Cory's precise, quick kills. Sam Littlefeather also opens fire on Jane with a shotgun, forcing her to put him down with her pistol.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Cory is a caring father and friend, but he is also a hunter. He coldly dispatches all of the drill site security save for the man who raped Natalie, drags him to the top of Wyoming's tallest mountain, and watches him die drowning in his own frozen blood in the same way she did.
  • Go Mad from the Isolation: What Pete uses as his feeble excuse for the rape and murders of Natalie and Matt, claiming boredom and isolation were responsible.
  • Grief-Induced Split: Cory and his wife divorce after the death of their daughter, Emily.
  • Happily Failed Suicide: As happily as one can be in the circumstances. Martin was all set to end his own life over his daughter's murder, but was stopped by a surprise call from his son in jail. This allowed him to receive news that his daughter's murderers were all caught and killed. While it's clear that he'll never stop grieving her, he seems relieved to have a reason to keep living.
  • Heroic Resolve: Natalie ran six miles barefoot in the snow trying to escape her rapists, much farther than her tormentor could cover in similar conditions.
  • Heroic Self-Deprecation: Jane is aware that she's not the best agent for the job, and was only chosen due to the US government's indifference to the reservation.
  • Impairment Shot: Of Jane's POV, after being bear-sprayed by Sam.
  • Informed Ability: Curtis tells Jane several times that she's a strong "warrior," but she spends much of the film needing to be guided and protected by others. Her "warrior" qualities amount to little more than shooting back when she's being shot at.
  • Instant Death Bullet: Played straight with Cory's high powered rifle, which also throws anyone hit by it several feet.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: When Jane lies about Natalie filing a missing person report on Matt to give herself justification to investigate his quarters at the oil well, the head of security asks how that could be when she's dead. Jane immediately gets suspicious because Natalie's identity was never released to the public.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: A major aspect of the film, considering it is set on tribal land and basically all the characters work for different agencies. Cory works for the US Fish & Wildlife Service and is basically operating as a Good Samaritan, Jane for the FBI, Ben for the Wind River Tribal Police, two Fremont County Sheriff deputies, and a few officers from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Plus the private security contractors working for the oil company also mention that the land where the rig is is leased by another government agency, the US Department of Energy. The tension over who actually has jurisdiction over the drill site reaches fever pitch during the Mexican Standoff:
    Deputy Evan: Turn away from me and drop to your knees right now!
    Dillon: Fuck you, this is a Department of Energy lease on reservation land asshole, you're breaking the law by being here!
    Curtis: This is leased land on a reservation, deputy, you have no authority! Deputy you have no authority, you are in violation of federal law!
  • Karmic Death: Cory doesn't kill Pete himself and claims to have given him a better chance than Natalie to survive by taking him "only" six miles from civilization, during the daytime and with all his winter gear save for his boots. It's subverted somewhat, as Pete had sustained at least one gunshot wound in the leg from Jane, was exposed longer than Natalie while unconscious, and had to start at the freezing top of Wyoming's highest peak. Still, the short distance Pete is able to cover before succumbing regardless makes clear that he dies knowing exactly what he inflicted on Natalie and how much stronger her will was than his.
  • Male Gaze: The movie gives us a good look at Jane's butt and her thong when Cory's mother-in-law makes somewhat catty comments on her choice of clothing.
  • Mexican Standoff: A deputy notices the drill security suspiciously flanking them, leading to him and quickly everyone else drawing their weapons on each other. Jane ends tensions by emphasizing her federal authority and holstering her gun first.
  • Mighty Whitey: A mild example. Cory Lambert is a white man living in Wind River who has married into the tribe and fathered two kids. Working as the nuisance-animal hunter for the Fish and Wildlife Service, he's apparently the best tracker, hunter, horseback rider and marksman on the reservation, though these skills were probably what brought him to the region and job to begin with. He is treated as an equal and respected member of the community by all of the native residents. While technically not a member of the tribe itself, he speaks for them in the end, referring to them as "my family's people."
  • Mood Whiplash: The flashback, both within that scene and relative to the scenes before and after it.
  • Morality Pet: Cory's interactions with his young son Casey serve to reveal the warmth beneath his normally cold professional exterior.
  • My Greatest Failure: Cory considers his enticing his wife to come out to spend some alone time with him on the night that their daughter Emily was abducted and murdered.
  • Naïve Newcomer: Jane is a rookie FBI agent as well as not being very knowledgeable about either the laundry list of problems on the Rez or various aspects of native culture. This contrasts with Cory, who, while not native himself, married into and is respected by the tribe and is a very talented hunter.
  • Neglected Rez: The Wind River Indian Reservation is the primary setting for the film, and it suffers from extreme poverty, lawlessness, and absence of proper law enforcement.
  • Never My Fault: When confronted by Corey, Pete blames the loneliness and hostile environment for his actions rather than take responsibility for them.
  • New Old West: The Wind River Indian reservation hasn't changed much in the last century, save for swapping out horses with snowmobiles and pickup trucks. Cowboy hats, revolvers, lever-action rifles, underground wealth and its repercussions, and a Mexican Standoff only emphasize how little has changed in rural Wyoming.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Subverted with the medical examiner. Jane sees him as this because he refuses to classify Natalie's death as murder, which would give her a lot more FBI resources. He explains that his hands are tied by red tape — he can only pass judgement on the cause of death, which is technically exposure-related. Although he's sympathetic and clearly believes it to be a homicide, he can't overstep the limits of his position.
  • Off on a Technicality: In a sense. Jane is not happy to learn that the coroner is legally required to put down Natalie's cause of death as drowning in her own freezing blood, when it's clear from the rest of the damage on her body that she only got that way as a result of human actions. The FBI will not send the woefully understaffed Tribal Police Force any more aid unless the paper officially states "homicide." She turns it around, choosing to simply not report in so that she at least will not be reassigned and there's a chance the case will actually be solved.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Ben has one of these when he realizes that the security guards are setting up an ambush and are going to shoot Jane through the door of their trailer.
    • The corrupt security force collectively starts panicking once Cory starts taking them down after they ambushed Jane and the deputies. They can't see him because of his snow camo, he's using a powerful rifle that makes their body armor useless, and he's picking them off methodically while they frantically look for him.
  • Old Cop, Young Cop: Ben is an old police chief who has Seen It All while Jane is a rookie FBI agent fresh out of training. Cory and Jane have a similar dynamic, even though Cory is not a law enforcement officer.
  • Open Mouth, Insert Foot: Jane during the first half of the movie. She means well, but she just cannot seem to say anything that doesn't come across as culturally insensitive at best.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Cory, Martin, and their wives struggle with this. Cory suggests embracing the pain, as trying to avoid it only means avoiding thinking about their child, thus forgetting them and letting them die in their minds as well.
  • Parental Neglect: Subverted. Jane is shocked to learn Natalie's parents didn't notice or report her being missing because they had let her move in with her white boyfriend whose name they didn't even know. And Natalie's father seems almost emotionless in response to her death. However, this turns out to be a case of Culture Clash, since Wind River elders trust their teenage children to make their own decisions regarding their lives, and he deliberately hides his emotions when dealing with a suspicious outsider. When he talks to Cory, by contrast, he immediately breaks down sobbing.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Cory dragging the wounded, frostbitten Pete up onto a freezing cold mountain peak, psychologically tormenting him before firing a gun next to his head and telling him to run barefoot through the snow, and leaving him to die of exposure alone in the wilderness is undeniably brutal, but given that the latter is a sniveling, cowardly rapist and murderer who makes lame excuses for his horrific crimes and pathetically begs for his life it's hard to feel like he didn't get what was coming to him.
  • The Place: The movie takes place on the titular reservation.
  • Police Are Useless: Very downplayed and justified. The tribal police help as much as they can, but it's made clear multiple times that they are simply undermanned for such a large area (they have six officers for an area the size of Rhode Island), and their authority is limited in murder cases. The FBI is supposed to have the necessary jurisdiction to take over in such cases, but the finer points of bureaucracy and applied legalese leave some serious gaps in between.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: One of the security guards drops a racial slur at Natalie.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: "I want you to run." Subverted in that Cory doesn't directly kill Pete, but instead just lets the snow do its job.
  • Private Military Contractors: Well technically they are security contractors, but the amount of firepower they are shown to have with them seems more fitting to go into a war zone than for providing security for an isolated oil rig in Wyoming.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: In his drunken stupor, Pete at first acts like an obnoxious albeit innocent kid, teasing Matt and Natalie before his lust escalates to violence. After he's captured by Cory, he cries like a baby and blames his vile actions on boredom and the cold.
  • Properly Paranoid: When the murder investigators are talking to the local oil company security guards, one of the deputies suddenly draws his gun on the security guards and accuses them of trying to flank him. Jane ultimately dismisses his concerns to deescalate the situation. However, his accusation is revealed to be completely true, and the security guards really are preparing to ambush the investigators.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: The investigators are especially motivated by this, particularly since many of the characters living in the rez knew Natalie personally. The assault is later shown in detail through flashback.
  • Red Herring:
    • After Natalie's body is found, suspicion immediately turns to her brother and his drug addict friends, as the trailer where they lived was the nearest structure. It turns out that they had nothing to do with her death and weren't even aware of it when the authorities show up.
    • As information about Natalie's unmet boyfriend is revealed—namely, that he is a white security officer from off the rez at least a decade her senior—the characters and audience are increasingly led to believe he was the assailant... until his body is also discovered in the snow. A flashback reveals that Matt genuinely cared about Natalie and died trying to protect her.
  • Revenge by Proxy: Cory gets involved in the investigation of Natalie's murder as a way of finding closure for himself after what happened to his daughter, who died under similar circumstances years ago.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Cory is a hunter whose job is to track and shoot wild predators to protect livestock. His role in the story is to help law enforcement hunt down a metaphorical predator (or predators, as it turns out) to protect human innocents.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: Matt dies fighting the rest of the security team to give Natalie a chance to escape. Unfortunately, given the freezing conditions and help being miles away, she expires before she can reach safety, rendering Matt's sacrifice moot.
  • The Sheriff: Ben Shoyo is the head of the Wind River Tribal Police, responsible for a territory as large as Rhode Island with only 6 officers under his command, though technically his title is Police Chief rather than Sheriff.
  • Ship Tease: Cory and Jane near the end, especially with the magazine Cory tries to read to her.
  • Shovel Strike: When the junkies try to flee out the backdoor of a trailer, Cory stops them by slamming them in the face with a snow shovel.
  • Snow Means Death: A running theme throughout the movie. One running fact is what exposure to the cold elements will eventually do to your lungs.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: When Pete is fleeing through the snow, he stops to look round him, turning a full circle. As he gets back to where he started, he finds Cory standing there in his snow camo suit.
  • Stupid Evil: The security team already pushed it by raping Natalie and recklessly murdering Matt when he tried to intervene, but they really go off the rails when they try to cover up the crime by also murdering a police chief, several deputies, and an FBI agent. One really has to wonder how they thought they could get away with this, although if Pete is to be believed, they all did simply Go Mad from the Isolation.
  • Sugar-and-Ice Personality: Cory comes across as pretty cold and stoic to strangers, but shows a much warmer side to people he's close to, like Martin, his young son, and, eventually, Jane.
  • Tactful Translation: Played with when Jane and Ben visit Natalie's parents and Jane presses Martin as to why he didn't keep closer tabs on his daughter:
    Martin: [speaking Arapaho]
    Jane: I'm sorry, what does that mean?
    Ben: It ain't good.
  • Tranquil Fury: Cory, when he's got Pete cornered. His anger is obvious to the audience, but he never raises his voice.
  • The Unsolved Mystery: Neither Cory nor the audience ever find out how exactly his daughter Emily died, not least of all because her remains were too decomposed to narrow down a cause of death. Since the ending text states that no missing persons statistics are collected for Native American women, her case is far from unique.
  • Vigilante Execution: Played with. Cory doesn't kill Pete himself, but leaves him in what amounts to a hopeless situation to die, which he soon does.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Pete, when cornered by Cory, falls into this, complete with Inelegant Blubbering.
  • Wham Line: A non-diegetic and silent one; the film ends with the following text popping up screen in the closing shot:
    "Although missing persons statistics are collected for all other demographics, none are collected for Native American women."
    "Nobody knows how many are missing."
  • Wham Shot: Jane is hammering on the door of Matt and Pete's trailer, and getting increasingly pissed off. Cut to an interior shot, where Matt opens the door to let Natalie in, and we realize we're in a flashback. And what's about to happen is Matt and Natalie's murders.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Corey's son features in several scenes in the film's first acts, establishing his father's character and beliefs and seeming to be set up as a potential point of conflict for the rest of the movie. He then disappears for the rest of the movie, apparently with his grandparents, something that seems rather jarring when Corey monologues about how his daughter's death taught him that parents can't risk taking their eyes off their children for a second.
  • When She Smiles: A male example with Cory, especially when he visits Jane in the hospital near the end.
  • Wild Teen Party: This is revealed to be what killed Cory's daughter, Emily. It was filled with so many strangers that it was impossible for anyone to know who was there and who wasn't, so in the cover of the crowd she was abducted and later found dead.
  • Wretched Hive: Wind River, like most Native American reservations, is extremely poor, with high levels of drug and alcohol abuse and violent crime and an almost nonexistent police force due to neglect from the federal government. Only adding to the misery is the weather: this movie is set in springtime, and yet the cold remains constantly life-threatening.
  • Your Normal Is Our Taboo: Jane is aghast at the idea that Natalie's parents let her move out and in with her boyfriend without having even met the guy, but in their community, once someone is of legal age, they are regarded as an adult capable of making their own decisions without parental interference.