Wind River is the second directorial effort from Taylor Sheridon, the screenwriter who wrote the excellent and intelligent thrillers Sicario and Hell or High Water. With Wind River he has delivered yet another exciting, character driven genre movie.
An 18 year old Native American woman is found dead in the middle of the wilderness by hunter Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner). As the murder has taken place on a Native American reservation the local police must involve the FBI, who send a lone agent, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), to investigate.
The plot plays out as a fairly conventional police procedural with further bodies being uncovered and suspects being eliminated, as Olsen and Renner close in on the real killer. The focus, however, is on the impact these murders have on the family of the victim and those pursuing the killer. Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen are excellent as Lambert and Banner. Renner carries a heavy grief with him. He is quietly amicable to all around him, hiding a great pain. Olsen is wonderful as the out-of-her-depth FBI agent who more than anything just wants to find justice for the victim. She is able to capture the audience’s frustrations with the bureaucracy of her situation and her determination is the driving force of the film.
Renner’s hunter, Lambert, is perhaps a little too perfect. He’s an expert tracker, a crack shot, a silent assassin, and has the emotional intelligence to effectively interrogate suspects. Completely out of her comfort zone, Banner is constantly playing catch up. This is a little frustrating as Banner is an excellent character. It’s a little reminiscent of the dynamic between Macer and Alejandro in Sicario. This is, however, Lambert’s story.
People in the film are also just a little too quick to monologue. There’s not much in the film that goes unsaid. But these scripted moments are supported by the powerful performances, captured beautifully by cinematographer Ben Richardson. The shots of the Wyoming wilderness are also epic in scope. Action sequences are few but superb. Very much like Sicario, the exchanges of gunfire are short but terrifying. There is a great weight to every shot fired.
The setting of the story is interesting too. The Native Americans of the film have all been failed by the system. The adults have been stripped of their purpose by having to acquiesce to procedures that fail to help them. The adolescents all dream of getting away but find themselves trapped by their poverty, some choosing imprisonment as a preferable lifestyle. Racial tensions form part of the story, but the focus is on similarities. The movie ends with text stating that no statistics are currently gathered about disappearances of Native American women, a humanist appeal to address a terrible injustice.
Wind River is an excellent thriller that carries an emotional weight along with its tense story.
4 / 5
Paul Salt is the co-host of the podcast One Good Thing.