An FBI agent teams with a town’s veteran game tracker to investigate a murder that occurred on a Native American reservation.
Taylor Sheridan, the writer of last year’s excellent “Hell or High Water,” and 2015’s brilliant “Sicario,” decided to also direct his latest story, “Wind River.” And what an accomplishment it is. Other than a little-known horror film in 2011 called “Vile,” “Wind River” is a monumental directorial achievement. Many filmmakers who start out with their first and even second directorial features, tend to try and do as much as humanly possible, sometimes they are able to attract a bevy of A-list Hollywood stars (“Pulp Fiction,” “Gone Baby Gone,” “Ordinary People”), or they want to try and reinvent whatever genre they are shooting in (“Dances with Wolves,” “Boyz N The Hood,” “The Evil Dead”), but what Mr. Sheridan successfully achieves with “Wind River,” and without resorting to any of the above-mentioned elements, is a story that demands your attention, filled with top-notch performances from actors who are by no means superstars, but damn fine actors. While Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen are known as superheroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they are also both working hard at proving to the public that they are capable of more than just holding a crossbow, or utilizing superhuman powers, they are first-rate actors capable of giving superb performances (see “The Hurt Locker” and “Martha Marcy May Marlene” respectively), with the right script and director.
In “Wind River,” Renner plays Cory Lambert, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent who lives in a small sleepy Wyoming town. His day-to-day job revolves around killing all sorts of predators, from mountain lions to coyotes who attack local farmers’ and ranchers’ livestock. One day, while out tracking a predator, he discovers the dead body of a local girl, Natalie (Kelsey Asbille). Because the death occurred on the Wind River Indian Reservation and is considered federal property, the FBI assigns one of its newest agents, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) to the case. When she arrives, she speaks to Cory as he is the person who found the body. She admits that she has never worked a case like this and with local law enforcement being very nonchalant about the whole affair, she asks Cory if he will help her as he has a reputation of being a good tracker. He agrees and together, they form an alliance and follow the clues that eventually lead them to the cause of Natalie’s death, as well as that of a second body they find in the wilderness.
The story overall is pretty straightforward but what director Taylor Sheridan does so perfectly, is not give you any clues early on whatsoever. When Cory finds the body, Natalie is dressed in clothing that would not be suitable for being outdoors at night when the temperature falls below freezing as it could kill you within minutes and because he knew Natalie, and because she lived on the reservation, Cory knows that she would have known that but then why was she found like this? When Jane arrives, she can clearly see that Natalie was either hit on the head or fell and hit herself somewhere along the way but she also notices blood which had permeated from her genitals, which could insinuate rape but with her having been found miles from civilization, the case grows more and more perplexing. Jane wants to call it a homicide, that way, the FBI will send more agents to assist her but after the local Forensic Pathologist examines Natalie’s body, he cannot concur with her assessment. He agrees that she most definitely could have been raped, therefore, it would make sense that she was found as far away as she was because she was trying to escape but his cause of death is simply that she died of hypothermia.
The story gives you countless possibilities and at one point, the thought of supernatural entities being involved even crossed my mind, but that is not the case. The film moves along nicely, thankfully never getting bogged down in rambling exposition that normally accompanies stories of this ilk but director Sheridan keeps the story at a fast and exciting pace. When the film finally arrives at the revealing moment, and the reason as to how Natalie was killed and why she was found so far away, Sheridan delivers a rousing and ferocious finale, one that leaves you feeling shocked yet pleased with the outcome. Jeremy Renner is the strong, silent type here, he never loses his cool and is always in control, as opposed to Elizabeth Olsen’s rookie agent Jane Banner, who brings to mind in several scenes, Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling from “The Silence of the Lambs.” She loves her job but being in the middle of a frozen wasteland, with only Cory to depend on, puts her in a very precarious situation, one where she wishes she could be more in control but at times, realizes she is out of her league and must lean on Cory for support.
Cinematographer Ben Richardson incorporates the frozen Wyoming backdrop and puts it center stage, allowing it to become the most important character throughout the entire movie. It is always there, no matter where the characters find themselves or where they look, the barren, frigid landscape surrounds them at all times. When Cory first discovers Natalie’s body in the snow, he can see that frostbite had settled on her feet and with just one glance at her toes, you can literally feel the ice-cold temperature surrounding you. This happens continuously throughout the movie and is a feat that is not easily accomplished. Together, both cinematographer, director, and the entire cast deliver a story full of authentic characters, realistic dialogue, and believable scenarios that will stay with you long after the final credits have rolled.
In theaters Friday, August 11th