Wind River is written and directed by Taylor Sheridan who wrote Sicario and Hell or High Water. Now Hell or High Water is one of my favorite movies but I really hated Sicario, so while I felt like I needed to see Wind River I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Having seen it I have one big takeaway: Taylor Sheridan is garbage at writing female characters.
It stands out because he’s otherwise an excellent writer. Hell or High Water is easily his best script, one of my favorite scripts ever; it has no female characters. After seeing Sicario I thought this was the case, since Emily Blunt, the only female character in the movie, spends that whole movie getting dunked on before the movie completely abandons her as the main character in favor on Benicio Del Toro. But that was just one example, and she was the representation of outside logical thought in a world that rejected that. It’s bad, but it’s just a singular character, and you can’t make every female character be a representation for all women.
Well you CAN and plenty of people do, but that’s dumb and a bad way to read fiction.
Representational issues are generally much bigger than any single instance (Except in extremely egregious examples). The biggest example of this for me is the way people misuse the Bechdel test. Anyone who tries to use the Bechdel test (Which is just do two or more female characters share a conversation that isn’t about a man) to evaluate a singular movie is an idiot (That’s part of the joke of the comic the idea comes from). The point of it is just to look at the scale of how many movies fail such a simple examination. It’s indifferent to the quality of the film or even the quality of representation. It’s about the system and it’s about trends.
Wind River is a serious drama about the investigation of the death and rape of a young woman in the Wind River Native American reservation in Wyoming. There are a lot of heavy conversations about the hardships of living there and dealing with this kind of tragedy. A lot of it is about the internal struggles of these characters. It’s also a movie that basically punts on showing the internal lives of any of its female characters.
Let me explain.
Our main characters are played by Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen (Yeah this also a movie about Native Americans starring White people. It is what it is.). Jeremy Renner lives here as a tracker, and had a daughter who died here. Elisabeth Olsen is a rookie FBI agent who’s completely out of her depth (She shows up wearing a thong). There are a lot of echos of the Emily Blunt character from Sicario here but I do think this character is a step forward. Her character has more built in flaws and she gets to do stuff and overcome them, whereas Blunt was presented as being awesome and without flaw, but then didn’t get to do anything except get shit on. So Sheridan is at least showing some progress I guess.
When they go to talk to the parents of the girl that died Olsen has no luck or tact when talking to the father who’s rude and dismissive of her. Then Jeremy Renner steps outside with him, and has a heartfelt man-to-man with him as a fellow father who lost a daughter. The characters are allowed to feel things and air their thoughts. Ok.
There’s also a part where Olsen goes to talk to the mother, only to find her sitting alone cutting herself, which Olsen and the movie just peace out on entirely. That’s what I mean when I say Sheridan doesn’t know how to write female characters. He has a grasp on the pain a father would feel with losing a daughter, but the sadness a mother feels for losing her daughter is too much for him, that’s beyond his comprehension. Which ok, fine, then don’t write a movie featuring that.
The men in this movie have internal lives and heartaches we get to see, but the women don’t, which leaves this movie about the rape and death of a woman completely unbalanced.
There’s also the fact that I didn’t really want a serious drama about adults being sad about death and rape. What I would have preferred was a movie that was stupider and just took this premise and became a dumb thriller. Prisoners is a movie I really like that did this, That’s more my speed. That’s an unfair criticism, I don’t generally like to get mad at movies for not being a completely different movie. But I think that would have been an easier movie to pull off. The criticisms I have of it wouldn’t bother me if it had been more trashy and fun. None of the characters in Valerian and the City of Thousand Planets have internal lives, they’re all shallow and shitty, but I love that movie because it’s stupid and fun. But because the movie takes itself so seriously and is generally well made (The acting is all good, the movie looks good, a lot of the writing is good) the places where it drops the ball sink the entire movie for me.
Ignoring the sexism, Hell or High Water is also a much better script than this or Sicario because it’s also very funny. It found the room for humor whereas the other two are pretty joyless experiences.
There’s more I could get into, but to do that I’d have to go deeper into the plot which I’m not gonna do here. I think this movie fails at what it set out to do and establishes some bad trends about a writer who I think is otherwise excellent. Go watch Hell or High Water, that is a great movie. Don’t bother with Wind River.
Thank You For Your Time.