"Wind River" is a Bleak Crime Story With Thrilling Performances By Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen: Review
Ah, the kinds of movies Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen can make when they aren't busy playing Avengers. Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch have teamed up for another movie, one that is about as far from a superhero movie as I can imagine; a depressing indie set on an impoverished Indian reservation. Wind River is a masterfully written look at a largely overlooked sector of American life that features several powerhouse performances. From the writer of Sicario and Hell or High Water comes another tale about the intersection of poverty and crime in America.
Written and directed by Taylor Sheridan, Wind River is a dark crime thriller set on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. Jeremy Renner plays Corey Lambert, an agent of the US Fish and Wildlife Service who while hunting for a mountain lion that has been killing livestock on the Reservation stumbles across a dead body lying in the snow. The body is that of 18-year old Natalie Hanson (Kesley Chow), who died after running barefoot in the snow for miles after being assaulted. FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen, also wonderful in an entirely different way in Ingrid Goes West) is called in from Las Vegas to investigate, although only because she was the closest agent to the scene. She's young and clearly out of her element; she arrives in sub-zero temperatures without even a pair of gloves to protect her from the cold. Banner is aware of the slim chance the murder has of ever being solved (drugs and crime are prevalent on the 3,500 square mile reservation) so she enlists the help of Lambert and the tribal police chief played by Graham Greene to track down the murderer.
The actors are great. Renner hasn't had a role this good in years. He plays the hunter hardened by tragedy with empathetic gloom. He plays off Olsen nicely, especially in the scene where Renner opens up to Olsen about his past that serves as a powerful reminder of how great both actors are. Also outstanding are Greene as the deadpan policeman, Julia Jones as Lambert's ex-wife and Gil Birmingham as Natalie's grieving father. Birmingham (also great in Hell or High Water) only has two scenes, but they will be the scenes that Wind River is most remembered for. There's also an extended flashback of Natalie and her boyfriend (Jon Bernthal) that is tender and, ultimately, heartbreaking.
Wind River is brutal. It's unrelentingly dark, and that will turn a lot of people off from it. But Sheridan is such a great writer that the bleakness is not without purpose. Although Wind River is very much a crime thriller and easily could have fallen into the generic whodunit model, Sheridan fills the film with pointed statements about the conditions of life for Native Americans and the cycle of injustice. One of the first scenes in the movie features of a wolf menacingly staring down a group of sheep on a ranch. The wolf is then shot dead by a character we come to learn is Lambert. In that scene, we learn everything about we need to know about the world of Wind River.
As tight as the screenplay is, there was still one specific detail that didn't make sense to me. I can't reveal what it is without giving away the whole story, but it bothered me. Some of the music (the score was by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis) felt too heavy in some of the more intimate scenes of the movie. It also has a pretty conventional way of shooting the snowy landscapes. But this is Sheridan's first time directing one of his screenplays and, with time, he will probably become as sharp in those aspects of filmmaking as he is with his screenplays.
What did YOU think of Wind River? Let me know in the comments below! Thanks for reading!