Survive or Surrender.


Of all of the movie released I missed during 2016 (typically due to work commitments) this one was one near the top of my list. I’m a fan of both Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen, and the setting and story to this one really appealed.

And now I’ve caught up with it, I am not disappointed… certainly one that would have muscled its way well into my top 20 of last year.

Wind River is an Indian reservation in Wyoming (although its filmed in Utah).  Natalie (Kelsey Asbille), a young Indian teen, is found in the snow raped and murdered by local tracker Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner, “Arrival“, “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation“). The local police, led by Ben (Graham Greene), are surprised when a passionate but naive young FBI officer – Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen, “Avengers: Age of Ultron“) – arrives out of a blizzard without remotely sensible clothing. So begins an investigation into who committed the crime, where local knowledge and skills are more applicable than all the CSI-knowhow in the world. 

Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) and Ben (Graham Greene) get to work.

This film is everything “The Snowman” should have been and wasn’t. At its heart, there are some memorable relationships established. Gil Birmingham (so good as Jeff Bridges’ right-hand man in “Hell or High Water“) plays Natalie’s dad, grieving and railing against all outsiders other than Cory, who he has a deep and close relationship with. For Cory has a back-story that goes beyond just him marrying into (and now separated from) Wilma (Julia Jones), a woman from the reservation.

Cowboys and Indians. Cory (Jeremy Renner) and Martin (Gil Birmingham) having a deep and moving discussion.

Cory himself has a role that is deep and multi-layered, and Renner is the perfect choice for it (although many scenes could have been cut and spliced into this from his – I thought really strong – Bourne spin-off “The Bourne Legacy”!). Here he has both action scenes and raw emotional scenes to tackle, and although perhaps he doesn’t quite pull off the latter to perfection, he comes pretty close. 

“Do you wanna build a snowman?”. Cory makes a grim discovery.

Elizabeth Olsen – who seriously deserves more meaty roles like this – plays a ‘flibbertigibbet’ girl (there’s an old word that needs more airtime!) who turns out to have real internal steel. Yet another admirable female role model. #She-do!

The film also paints a vivid and intolerable picture of the dead-end nature of reservation life for many, with poor decisions as a teen (and we’ve all made those) here not being forgiven for the rest of your life. 

Written and directed by Taylor Sheridan, who also wrote “Sicario“, “Hell or High Water” and the soon to appear Sicario sequel, “Soldado”, pens some fine and memorable dialogue.  “Shouldn’t we wait for some backup?” asks Banner.  Ben replies “This isn’t the land of backup. This is the land of you’re on your own”.  It’s a film with useful tips as well, like NEVER, EVER go for a run in seriously sub-zero temperatures!  (As I’m penning this review in sub-zero Canada at the moment, this is timely advice. #skiptheruntoday.)  Sheridan won a Cannes Film Festival award as director for this, but arguably it’s a shame the script has been largely overlooked for the major awards so far.

And that land is one of the stars of the film as well. Filmed around the town of Park City in Utah, it’s gloriously snowy countryside with impressive mountain scenery.   

Bleak but impressive, Utah is one of the stars.

My only quibble with the movie is that there are some elements of the plot that don’t quite gel properly. At various times, the heavens open and it buckets down – and I mean buckets down – with snow that must add inches to the landscape in minutes. And yet Cory can still point out tracks in the snow that were made days before? Huh?  Also (without spoilers) some elements of communications are also conveniently unreliable when they need to be.

Will this be for everyone?  While I commented that the excellent “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing.Missouri” (which shares similar background subject matter) did NOT have flashback scenes to the rape, this film does go there, and so might be upsetting for some viewers.

Girl in Trouble. Kelsey Asbille plays the victim Natalie.

But it’s a high-class, intelligent crime thriller that takes “Mexican standoff” to a whole new level.  Recommended.

Fad Rating: FFFF.