Wind River, 2017.
Directed by Taylor Sheridan.
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Gil Birmingham, Graham Greene, and Julia Jones.
The discovery of the bloody corpse of a Native American teen in the frozen Wyoming wilderness prompts a government animal tracker and an FBI agent to join forces to solve the case.
Screenwriter turned director Taylor Sheridan draws on actual events to deliver Wind River, a sucker punch of a movie that’s visceral, unflinching and brooding.
Jeremy Renner plays Cory Lambert, a Wyoming state employed wildlife tracker, who is called to the remote Wind River Indian Reservation to kill a predatory mammal. Although respected for his skills, Cory has a strained relationship with the community as he was married to a woman from the ‘rez’ and fathered two children with her – a young son and a deceased daughter.
During his trek into the snowy mountains, Cory spots the body of a teenage girl. She is battered, bloody and barefoot. Cory immediately recognises her as his late daughter’s best friend Natalie. He summons the authorities – a veteran officer from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the FBI. However, the Fed’s emergency deployment is a rookie investigator from Las Vegas named Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen).
Given her FBI credentials, Jane is automatically in charge of leading the task force. She’s gutsy, competent and smart, but also aware that her lack of knowledge of the local customs and terrain put her at a disadvantage. She requests Cory’s co-operation and finds him all too willing to assist – Natalie’s violent rape and subsequent death dredges up ugly memories for him, and perhaps capturing her assailant can provide some sort of closure.
Wind River marks Sheridan’s first time behind the camera for a major feature – and it’s a confident debut. The Sicario and Hell or High Water scribe clearly understands what it takes to produce a muscular, gripping thriller. The story is raw, upsetting and socially astute. Sheridan offers a glimpse into the fringes of the American West, where ordinary people struggle to live among their barren surroundings, and where the Native American population is often plagued with crime, drug abuse, unemployment and discrimination. Any online searches on the Wind River reservation reveals a plethora of gloomy news articles and reports.
Wyoming’s blisteringly cold and wintry landscape heightens the sense of loneliness and despair. The frozen tundra genuinely looks dangerous and menacing. That’s layered with a terrific score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.
Renner, with his lengthy resume of franchises and sequels, invokes his Hurt Locker glory here. It’s a moving, unshowy portrayal of a dependable and thoughtful man wracked by grief. He shares an easy mentor-student chemistry with Olsen, a fellow Marvel’s Avengers co-star, who herself turns in a sound performance as the well-meaning, albeit inexperienced, agent. Supporting cast-mates Gil Birmingham and Graham Greene are noteworthy as well.
If Sheridan continues with films of this calibre, he could certainly grow into the next Brian De Palma or Denis Villeneuve. A talent to watch.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★