This review is for "Wind River" (DVD - 2001)
PLEASE NOTE THAT ONCE AGAIN AMAZON HAS LUMPED REVIEWS FOR ALL VERSIONS OF "Wind River," THUS DENIGRATING THIS DVD VERSION!!!
I first encountered this film while looking for other movies about Native Americans on Amazon. It was frequently listed as an also recommended film by those who had purchased the film I was looking at. However, the front cover, showing the "white boy" leading Indians at Monument Valley, Arizona/Southern Utah--many hundreds of miles from the Wind River area of Wyoming--led me to believe that it would be a really bad movie. After a while, however, I read the reviews for the movie and learned it was about the Wind River Shoshone Indians and was based upon a book published under the titles "The White Indian Boy" and "Among the Shoshones." I became even more skeptical of the film, as I had read this book as a freshman at the University of Utah, and had found it fairly demeaning of Native Americans. Then some time ago, it went on sale, and I thought what the heck. It turned out to be a VERY fortuitous decision. "Wind River" is actually one of the most enjoyable movies about Native Americans I have ever viewed.
If you are looking for a wonderful movie you can enjoy with your family, friends, or by yourself, "Wind River" is unquestionably a film to watch.
"Wind River" begins with Nick Wilson (1845-1916) riding his pony express route (between Shell Creek and Deep Creek) in 1861, then flashes back six years to the Wilson family homestead at Grantsville, Utah Territory (1850). Nick is "goofing off" and playing with his best friend, Pantsuk, who is also teaching him "Goshute"--a Shoshone dialect of the Goshute tribe, which part of the Shoshone Nations. Nick (played by Blake Heron), the son of a Mormon family, wants nothing to do with farming and dreams of being free "spirited;" (this notion of spirit will come up again). The film then breaks away to [Shoshone Chief] Washakie's village (vastly smaller than in reality), where Washakie's mother experiences a recurring dream about a white boy coming and living with her. For those who don't believe in dreams, this sequence is most likely pure non-sense; for those who do, they will understand why Washakie (played by Russell Means) sends three men, lead by Moragoni (played by A Martinez), on a journey to find the boy. Eventually, Moragoni finds Nick, who at first is scared that they want to "scalp" or "kidnap" him. But, Moragoni makes it clear that he wants to give Nick a horse so he can ride away on his own free will with them:
"No force you (to come with us)....Maybe the wind calls you to come with us....If you feel the wind, you come....You are chosen; you come with me, you ride good, you learn how to live life like a great man." [The use of "poor" or, as I call it below, "silly" English is an artifact of the script that is entirely inappropriate in this film.]
That evening, Nick has a dream about "the wind" and the "spirit" of his friend--who died in an accident saving Nick. When Nick awakes, he leaves and joins Moragoni to go back to the Wind River. Poetically, Nick names his horse "Spirit." At Washikie's camp Nick Wilson becomes Yagaichi (Crying) and begins learning Shoshone language and customs, while teaching English to his Shoshone mother. After two years, and the death of his mentor, Moragoni, Yagaichi "hears the wind" and decides that it is best for him to return home. On the way, he encounters his brother, Elliot (played by Wayne Brennan), who explains that he has been "searching" for Nick for two years because "I knew you where out here." The movie the flashes forward, Nick is riding into Washikie's camp in 1861 to find that his Shoshone mother has died before he could return as he had promised. The "wind" of the Pony Express horse could not carry him there fast enough.
For me an interesting theme of the movie is the power of the "wind" and the "spirit." This theme of "wind" and "spirit," along with living life the way a good man should, form the heart of "Wind River." Indeed, two very potent segments of the film are during the singing of the songs "The Wind Calls Your Name" and "Enter the Circle." Both fit well with the content of the film.
While many other reviewers lament that the film drifts from or fails to "faithfully" capture the book--something I often do as well--in this case I think the movie is superior to the book. While there are some issues I have with the film--e.g., A Martinez's silly "broken English"--overall the film does a good job, within the time frame of 88 minutes, to portray Shoshone life styles. Conversely, I do not understand why the movie fails to explain why there are "white posses" looking for Nathan; or why Nathan's brother spends two years in a "Searchers" (John Wayne; 1956) type hunt for Nathan--beyond, "I knew you were out here."
My only real complaints about the "Wind River" are: 1) The movie was not filmed in the Wind River region, but rather in parts of California, and at locations in the Park City and St. George areas of Utah. While St. George is totally apt for the start of the film, the lack of the real Wind River Mountains was somewhat dissatisfying; but, if you have never seen them, then you probably would not know or care. 2) That so many non-Native Americans were cast in roles because they "looked Indian." (Technically, I should also mention that Blake Heron, as Nick Wilson/Yagichi, is clearly way too old for the part; but, using a younger actor would have taken much longer and cost much more to make the film.)
Lastly, I would like to make it clear that I feel that "Wind River" is a movie suitable for all ages. The PG-13 rating is most likely due to the number of people shown shot with arrows during the one poorly staged "battle" between Washikie's Shoshones and the Crows (to which Nick/Yagaichi watches from a tree). Afterwards, Yagaichi finds Moragoni just before he dies from an arrow wound to the stomach. I do not see it as excessive violence, but apparently some do. I purchased "Wind River" some time ago, and just got it back from everyone borrowing it to watch with their children. No one thought the film was inappropriate for their children; and more than a few grandparents loved the movie. Additionally, while "Wind River" may be conceived as a "Mormon" picture by some, of the eight non-Mormon families who have watched my copy, not a single person has even hinted such to me.
November 11, 2008: I recently loaned "Wind River" to another friend, who completely enjoyed the film: "I think this is my new favorite movie." However, both he and his wife felt that there were a couple of quick scenes that were too graphic for their son to view, and I wanted to pass this information along to readers of this review. In re-watching, I paid close attention to the scenes, and must concur that the PG-13 rating is appropriate after all. This rating allows parents the chance to watch before letting their children watch, and make their own decisions; which is what the rating system is in place for. Would I still allow my own children--if I had younger children still--to watch "Wind River?" Yes, because I think it is that good. But, and this is a big but, I would let them know ahead of time so they could close their eyes if they wanted to, and I would discuss the film with them afterwards.--Karl
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