On Wyoming’s remote Wind River Indian Reservation, the body of a barefoot young woman lies face down and frost bitten in the snow. Despite incontrovertible evidence indicating foul play, the medical examiner rules the cause of death pulmonary edema—her lungs had filled with blood, a sure sign she’d been running. But from what, out here? The closest habitable structure is six miles away. Most people wouldn’t make it 600 yards in these frigid, subzero conditions, let alone six miles.
The man who finds her is Cory Lambert, a veteran game tracker for the Fish and Wildlife Service. He hunts predators for a living—coyotes, mountain lions, hungry wolves. The FBI sends in rookie agent Jane Banner from Vegas, inadequately attired, to investigate. Clearly she’s out of her depth here. She asks Cory if he will come hunt a predator for her.
He agrees, partly, because he knew Natalie, the dead girl. She was his daughter Emily’s best friend, but Emily is gone now too. “I suppose you’d like to know how?” he asks Jane, during a rare moment of downtime, pausing to add “so would I.”
The enormity of loss in Taylor Sheridan’s stark and unforgiving Wind River is a powerful presence, and the film’s performances, by Jeremy Renner as Cory, Elizabeth Olsen as Jane, and Gil Birmingham as Natalie’s father Martin, are equal to it. Birmingham is especially good, but Renner has rarely been better, and Olsen continues to impress. Dead daughters and sad, wasted lives make for emotionally difficult cinema and Wind River’s got them in spades. The scenery is spectacular, but some of the film’s brutal content requires a strong constitution.
Sheridan, an occasional actor better known for writing the recent Hell and High Water and Sicario, takes a second stab at directing here (after the Vile slasher from 2011) and crafts a marvelous mood piece; he also penned the taut screenplay.
Wind River is both thrilling and intensely moving, a testament to its novice director and fine cast which also includes Graham Greene (Dances with Wolves) as Ben, the local law enforcement, and Julia Jones (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1) as Cory’s estranged wife.
(c) 2017 David N. Butterworth