Wind River opens with the title card: “This is based on actual events.” This statement is vaguer than “Based on a True Story”, so just how much artistic license did the filmmakers take? The answer is actually quite a bit. In the movie, the killing of Natalie (Kelsey Asbille) is factually grounded on the actual murder of a young girl named Marisa Spoonhunter. In the movie, and in real life, the victim (Marisa/Natalie) is a Native American, female resident of the Wind River Reservation (WRR) who had been missing four days and was later found dead, unburied and half naked in the woods. An autopsy determined she suffered head trauma and had been sexually assaulted. To this point, the film is spot on with the actual events. Miss Spoonhunter was age 13 when she died; we are told that Natalie is 18 (the actress playing Natalie is age 26). The legal age of consent for a female in Wyoming is 16. In real life, Marisa is jailbait and Natalie is not. The movie is now starting to play with the key facts. So who killed Marisa/Natalie? Back to hard, cold facts of the Spoonhunter case, as reported by the Casper Tribune: The police arrested two male suspects living in a trailer on the WRR: Robert Spoonhunter, Marisa’s brother, and Kyeren Tillman, her step cousin. Robert confessed and did a plea bargain for voluntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to 13 years. Marisa’s step cousin, Kyeren Tillman, was convicted of accessory to the killing and sex abuse of a minor. Tillman was sentenced 6.5 years. The actual killers and victim belonged to the same Indian clan, but the movie version avoids the family connection. This is where the movie veers chaotically into pure fiction, and can no longer claim linkage to “actual events”. The killers, in the movie version, are not from the WRR and not Native Indians. The flick takes us off the reservation to do some scalp hunting at a drilling location.
The scenes at the drilling rig are horribly, 100% wrong, and ruined this flick. I have drilled many wells in the Rockies, and nothing in this story fits reality. The rigs do not have a gang of well-armed, trigger happy thugs in charge of “security”. Did the movie director get a drilling operation confused with a maximum security prison? In fact every location I worked on was gun free. The vast majority of wells are drilled on BLM leases or Tribal leases. The rules are simple – NO guns. You break the rules, you lose the lease. The rigs have unarmed gate guards whose job is to monitor traffic in and out of location. If a crime happens on location, we call the Sheriff, and he handles it. The rig showdown scene with the law in this movie is completely false. Wind River is an overrated, deeply flawed movie that attempts to deceive the audience with a lie.
Written by Ben Clark. Copyright 2016-2023. All rights reserved.