There’s a sudden chill that makes its way down the viewer’s back after the opening scene of Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River. The film is a murder mystery set in an Indian reservation in Wyoming. The murder itself is not the reason why a sudden shock hits the person’s nervous system in the beginning. The reasoning for that is Ben Richardson’s lovely cinematography, which exquisitely captures a chilly Wyoming winter so well that we’re suddenly immersed into the film’s setting. The multiple feet of snow crunching under the characters’ feet and the constant blowing of the cold air bring us that much closer to a place unknown to many.
Wind River is Sheridan’s third screenplay after his excellent 2015 debut, Sicario, and his deservedly Oscar-nominated second feature, 2016’s Hell or High Water. With Wind River, Sheridan also steps behind the camera for a crime drama that grounds itself in reality and avoids a lot of the “whodunit” type of cliches. Sheridan focuses on how a real crime would go about being solved, but also focuses on the people involved and how they speak to each other. There are numerous people involved that are dealing with grief following the loss of a loved one. The dialogue comes off as more true-to-life than heavy-handed. The emotions emitted by the characters are all real and felt.
Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is a tracker for the Fish and Wildlife Service in the Wind River Reservation area of Wyoming. While out on duty, Cory comes across a body of a barefoot woman that had been raped. The visual calls back to a time when Cory lost his daughter for reasons unknown.
This case brings in Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), an ill-prepared FBI agent who shows up due to being the closest to take on the case. She may be naïve to the area, but her teaming with Cory helps them both in figuring out what happened to the 18-year-old victim named Natalie (Kelsey Asbille). Unfortunately, it also puts them both in grave danger.
Wind River is an aptly paced thriller that builds up to scenes where all hell breaks loose and gunfire erupts. Thankfully, Sheridan doesn’t drastically change the tone of the film by turning it into a shoot-em-up action movie. He keeps these moments brief, as they should be. But he also captures their intensity very well. Every gunshot that goes off is loud and alarming, making Wind River that much more real.
The setting is described as being “the land of: You’re on your own,” and the way Sheridan crafts the characters and setting are exactly that. The town is far from civilization. Medics can’t make it to them in the time of an emergency, and neither can backup for law enforcement. They live off of hunting and eating the animals that roam the area. The citizens of the Indian Reservation have had to live like this for years, and they have many stories to tell.
Renner and Olsen are superb together. Both are highly knowledgeable in their fields and strict enforcers, but also understand that they come from different backgrounds and have to try to figure out how each other works. Olsen is more like a fish-out-of-water in this setting, while Renner is an expert to how the people live and what they are facing. They have their disagreements, but their partnership develops stronger as they get further into the case.
Renner is especially strong as the veteran tracker who’s an expert of the area but also has a shattered life. The case recalls a terrible time in his life, one that still has questions unanswered. He shares a lot in common with Martin (Gil Birmingham), the father of the victim in the case. The final moments between the two of them are especially moving.
The Blu-ray for Wind River contains a 1080p transfer that is beautiful to watch at home, and a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that wonderfully captures all the sounds of the movie. The special features are a bit bare, though, having a few deleted scenes and a behind-the-scenes video gallery that features interviews with Sheridan, Renner, and Olsen.
Wind River has been garnering some possible Oscar buzz, mostly for Renner’s performance. He definitely deserves it for playing one of the best roles of his career. It’s a tough, more grounded role for Renner in a movie that is a thrilling and emotionally impactful directorial effort from Sheridan.