Wind River follows Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a wildlife officer in rural Wyoming whose work mostly entails tracking down and hunting wild animals that prey on livestock. While tracking down some mountain lions on Native American reservation land one day, he stumbles on to a dead body. FBI Agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) flies in from Las Vegas to investigate, and immediately finds herself out of her depth. She asks for Lambert’s help, using his tracking skills and his personal connection to the people on the reservation in order to get closer to the truth.There is a mystery to be solved here, but it isn’t really the main focus of this movie. It’s there to drive the plot forward, but this is mostly just a portrait of a community in despair. The action is sporadic at best, and the case does not offer the kind of twist and turns that people might expect from your average thriller. In lieu of those traditional thrills, the movie digs into the human drama on the fringes of the American dream, revealing dark, painful truths about the depth of abandonment that certain communities face every single day.This is a movie that keeps it very simple. The community, after all, isn’t very big. There are no real red herrings since there aren’t enough people around in this cold, desolate place to suspect. The case just plays out like a real case would. The investigators follow one lead into the next, before getting all the answers in one fell swoop. But again, this movie isn’t about finding the answers. It’s about looking around in this community, and showing audiences how remote justice can be. In this story, that remoteness is literal. Banner flies in from Las Vegas because she’s already the closest agent around.This is the real danger in this movie. There are criminals about, certainly, and they’re wielding weapons that might harm the characters. But many of the people in the film have already been harmed. History has driven them to this harsh, unforgiving place, and institutions continue to fail them. The horror of the crime doesn’t even seem to land, because it’s just one more terrible thing in a place drowning in misery. Within this context, it’s very difficult to extract some sort of conventional cinematic satisfaction. But the film can be very moving as it takes that long hard look into this particular injustice. Because through it all, it seems to never quite lose hope.This is the directorial debut of Taylor Sheridan, who was screenwriter on Sicario and Hell or High Water. For a first-time director, Sheridan exhibits really strong control over his work, the frames well designed, the rhythm deliberate. There may not be a whole lot of action, but the film never loses its tension. Jeremy Renner is excellent in the movie, his performance conveying his character’s sad history well before any of it is revealed. Elizabeth Olsen is tasked mainly with playing a fish out of water, but she delivers grit and intelligence every second she’s on screen.Wind River does revel a bit too much in ugliness. It feels like there’s more to study, more to understand about the vastness of the problem being presented in the film. In limiting itself to delivering a version of cinematic justice, the movie ends up feeling disappointingly simplistic when all is said and done. Having said that, there is inherent value in the film’s attempt to tell a story within this particular setting. It is still reckoning with ideas that are really challenging. This is a grown-up film that deserves a grown-up audience that’s looking for more than standard movie thrills.
WIND RIVER IS NOW SHOWING IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE.