Wind River
A Snowy Mystery

Coming off back-to-back critical successes as a screenwriter with Sicario and Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan has earned the opportunity to direct that he gets with Wind River.  The film is not Sheridan’s first directorial effort—that would be 2011’s low-budget horror flick Vile—but it his first with a halfway decent budget and a couple of prominent actors in the lead roles (two Avengers, no less).  The resulting film, like Hell or High Water, is a compelling story about a part of the American landscape that has been all but forgotten by those outside of it.

Jeremy Renner stars as Cory Lambert, a tracker whose job it is to hunt down the wild animals that have been killing the local livestock in and around the Wind River reservation in Wyoming.  While searching for a lioness and her cubs that have killed his stepfather’s steer, Cory stumbles upon the body of a local teenager lying in the snow.  The body is reported to the FBI, which sends their nearest available agent from the Las Vegas office.

Enter Elizabeth Olsen as Jane Banner, an agent who is not so much unqualified as she is unprepared to handle a case in the rough climate of central Wyoming.  Jane recruits Cory to help her with the investigation as he knows the area and they begin by investigating some of the local troublemakers as well as the skeleton crew watching over a local oil rig during the winter.  The investigation is important to Cory, not only because the victim was his daughter’s best friend, but because his daughter died under similar circumstances three years earlier and the culprits were never found.

The movie looks to bring to light an overlooked problem in the country as it informs us in a title card that there are no statistics kept in regards to young Native American women who go missing.  And there are many different ways that someone might go missing in the snowy landscape of Wyoming.  There’s the weather, the wild animals, drugs, and the human predators, just to name a few.  It is a problem even scarier than the bankrupt towns that served as the backdrop for Hell or High Water.

Wind River plays like a mystery, even though there is not much mystery as we recognize who the villains are almost immediately upon them walking onscreen.  The movie moves deliberately, building up the tension until it reaches the point of no return.  After giving us hints about what happened, the movie flashes us back to the actual event and it is terrifying.

One of the things Sheridan has done best in his previous movie is to give us small, but interesting details about the characters and their environments, whether it is the sandals worn by Josh Brolin’s CIA agent in Sicario or the waitress who refuses to give up her tip despite knowing that the money was stolen in Hell or High Water.  In Wind River, there is a great moment in which Cory meticulously assembles his own bullets or the scene in which the coroner cannot list the death as a homicide even though everyone, including him, knows that to be so.  Sheridan also tends to have a good shootout in his films and Wind River is no exception.

The movie is filled with some terrific cinematography and has excellent performances from both Renner and Olsen, along with a great supporting cast.  It tackles a serious subject and gives it its due weight. The comic relief is few and far between, but there are a few moments that break the tension, often thanks to Graham Green as the reservation’s police chief.

Wind River was a success at both the Sundance and Cannes film festivals, and it is easy to see why.  It does not quite live up to its two predecessors on Sheridan’s resume, but that is a nearly impossible standard to hold a film to.  Wind River does exactly what it intends to do and it does it well.  Sheridan remains a figure whom I look forward to seeing what he will do next, whether that is as a writer, a director, or both.

Wind River is rated R for “strong violence, a rape, disturbing images, and language.”  There is some brutal imagery in this movie making the R rating appropriate, but none of it is gratuitous. 

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Wind River.