Review - Wind River

Wind River (2017), R, 1h 47min - About three weeks ago, an old college buddy of mine had a post of Facebook asking if anyone he knew had seen a film called Wind River.  I had had no prior knowledge of the film, but after seeking out the trailer, I began to really look forward to seeing it.  It took a couple more weeks for it to get released in my area and yet another week before I could work it into my schedule, but yesterday I was able to check out the latest film from writer/director Taylor Sheridan, starring Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen.

While tracking predators that have been killing livestock on the Wind River Indian Reservation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Agent Cory Fisher (Renner) discovers the body of an 18 year old girl miles away from civilization.  He instantly recognizes the remains as being Natalie Hanson (Kelsey Asbille), one of his daughter's closest friends.  Rookie FBI Agent Jane Banner (Olsen) is dispatched to determine whether or not it is a murder case and immediately has an uphill battle in dealing with the locals as she's a young white woman who shows up woefully unprepared for the vicious Wyoming weather.  Jane asks for Cory's help in investigating the crime as he's not just familiar with the land, but has a unique set of skills as a tracker and has also come to be accepted by the residents of the Reservation as one of their own (his ex-wife's family is from there).  Common sense points to the crime being a homicide, but the medical examiner states that the actual cause of death was the sub-zero temperatures of the night in question, so he cannot document the death as such.  This would cause the FBI to pull their resources, leaving the case to the local reservation law enforcement which is severely undermanned for the amount of land they have to cover.  Hellbent on not allowing the case to fall from her purvue, Jane pushes forward with her investigation in an attempt to find enough evidence to document the case as a homicide, while Cory continues to help Jane's efforts in his own quest for revenge and closure.

This is probably the best performance of Jeremy Renner's that I have seen in a while.  That's not to say that he hasn't had good roles in recent years because he has, but this one nears the levels of his turns in The Hurt Locker and The Town.  Elizabeth Olsen is also strong, giving a performance full of determination and a sense of right despite her character being well out of her element.  Graham Greene plays Ben, the Reservation Police Chief wonderfully, balancing a bit of outsider distrust with a dose of realism, knowing that his force doesn't have the resources to handle such a crime.  A couple of other familiar faces pop up in the cast as well: Julia Jones (Cody's ex-wife Wilma), Gil Birmingham (Martin), Hugh Dillon (Curtis), Matthew Del Negro (Dillon), and Jon Bernthal (Matt, boyfriend of the deceased) who has worked with Taylor Sheridan in the past, playing a similarly small but important roll in 2015's Sicario.

Wind River is a tense, bleak, mystery thriller.  There are no crazy twists or mis-direction, just a well told, well paced film that leans heavily on the remote nature of its location and uses it as a strength.  It reminds me a bit of Winter's Bone in that way.  Sheridan places the racial and political tension of the Reservation at the forefront of the film, without being preachy, which is impressive in and of itself.  There is a disturbing rape scene (is there really any other kind?) and an animal death (early in the film), so be forewarned if you are sensitive to content like that.

Wind River is another winner from Taylor Sheridan as far as I'm concerned.  Having also written Sicario and Hell or High Water, he certainly has the art of the bleak thriller down pat.  This is right up there with the best films I've seen so far this year and it's probably pretty safe to say that it will find its way onto my annual Top 10 list at year's end.

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