To some, Wind River will be known as something like “that movie with Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch in parkas.” Such a descriptor, however, does it a great disservice. This is a superb film that should be given a chance on its own merits.
Out in rural Wyoming where it’s extremely cold and the snow falls year-round, Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is a Fish and Wildlife Service agent whose ex-wife (Julia Jones) is from the eponymous Native American reservation and still has family there. When bringing their son (Teo Briones) there to spend time with her parents, Lambert goes out to patrol for animals in the area only to find the body of a local teenage girl (Kelsey Chow) who appears to have been raped and murdered. These circumstances match those of Lambert’s own daughter who was killed three years earlier.
The reservation police chief (Graham Greene) calls for outside help but the FBI sends a single agent, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), who is far from a seasoned profiler and even less equipped to deal with the environment. Lambert is kept on and when the autopsy’s conclusion that the victim died of more natural causes comes in, Banner knows that no more help will be coming. They do get leads to follow, but between the lack of resources and difficult terrain, solving the case is still going to be a challenge.
In bringing the serious and overlooked issues of reservation crime to attend, the film does a great job in illustrating the living situations of the residents. At one point it’s brought up that jail would be preferable (and hence why some resort to crime). Simultaneously though, other characters are presented who are good people that try to make the best of their realities through bonding with their families and community.
Writer/director Taylor Sheridan exhibits keen sensibilities, with shots that perfectly encapsulate the wintery vastness of the setting with the scenic pacing to match. Peppered in are excellently-crafted powerful sequences of intensity that really compel. The actors are very impressive as well, with Renner, Olsen, and Greene reminding just how skilled they are when given the right material.
If there’s any weak point, it’s that the mystery portion is over a little too quickly and not very elaborate. This is more like the first half of the average Law & Order episode (the original version that is, where the police work only took that first half), and that goes for the unsub and motive as well. Despite the parallel with the heroine, Silence of the Lambs this is not.
Overall though, Wind River is a great film that sticks out in the current theatrical landscape arguably as barren as the frozen wastelands it features. Now let’s see if The Snowman can measure up.