An FBI agent teams with a town’s veteran game tracker to investigate a murder that occurred on a Native American reservation.
Writer and first-time director Taylor Sheridan (“Sicario”, “Hell or High Water”) studies the age-old narrative theme of crime in punishment in “Wind River,” shadowed as a murder mystery on a Native American reservation. Now, this is not a groundbreaking subject in film, but he does not mean to. The backdrop of the frozen Wyoming tundra, laced with deep hurt and secrets, functions as the director’s own private place to explore small-town justice and vengeance, only contributing to the individual brilliance of his film.Instead, Sheridan inserts us like an ice pick into the center of an established reservation, as mentioned. We open on Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a professional hunter and tracker. For such skills, he is charged to work with an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) to solve the cause of death and assault of a Native American teenager found in the vast snowy land. The film however, is not a whodunit, nearly as it is a “who is solving it.” Intensely character focused, Renner is an expert in these kinds of roles – world-weary survivalists, unable to settle for normalcy. Through Renner, Sheridan employs character as a way to understand not only one murder, but the way of the land and the oppression of the Native American population throughout time. With the focus of character and complexity of plot, there is also a richness to detail. As recorded by the cinematography and the score, one murder leads to the howl in the wind of spiritual and familial aches from generations before. One only wishes that Sheridan hadn’t lost sight of this component in the final act. Still, the way he builds the tension is utterly fascinating. Crime or punishment is more than a theme here; it is the absolute fight for life. “Wind River” is stark and cold, with small-town feel that encourages unconventional values (black humor, sardonic behavior), but ultimately this leads to the power of individuality, family, and justice. That said, it is a darker, cynical side of justice, one that is not recommended to young audiences or sensitive Dove viewers. Still, without our approval, “Wind River” is a fascinating campfire story, and highly encouraged to be seen on the big screen, and talked about comprehensively.