Corey Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is a hunter with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. While out hunting mountain lions one winter day on the Wind River Indian Reservation, he finds more than he bargained for: the body of a young Native woman named Natalie (Kelsey Chow). Determining the case to be a homicide, the local tribal authorities call the FBI, who send in Agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen). Jane has no experience working in the brutal Wyoming winter, and recruits Corey, who has a personal stake in solving the case, to help her hunt down the culprit.
Wind River demonstrates that Sheridan, who previously penned the screenplays for both Sicario and Hell or High Water, has as much talent at working behind the camera as he does with a writer’s pen. Wind River very much feels like the continuation of those two films. Just like his previous works, Wind River is a harsh, brutal film. This is demonstrated first and foremost by the use of the raw western environment; just like with the borderland in Sicario and the West Texas plains in High Water, Sheridan expertly uses the snowy forests and towering mountains of the reservation as almost another character. You can almost feel the overbearing isolation and the weight of the winter air pressing upon you. This is a kind of land that affects people, hardening their bodies and sometimes warping their minds.
Of course, a land this hard breeds hard people. The Wind River reservation is a land of broken families, plentiful drugs, and lost people. The film vividly showcases the poverty and hopelessness that pervades many Native American communities, where young men view jail time as a rite of passage and young women disappear with an all-too familiar frequency. And violence, of course. Although not containing an over-abundance of them, what action scenes the film has are brutal, and stunningly well-choreographed and shot.
And finally, Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen both shine. The former gets another chance to demonstrate that, when he’s not hanging out with Tony Stark and Tom Cruise, he can wonderfully portray a much harder, more grizzled kind of badass. And Olsen, who is also in the awesome Ingrid Goes West being released a few weeks from now, has suddenly become one of my new favorite actors, demonstrating a range not often seen in Hollywood these days. The two have clearly benefitted from their time working on Avengers together, as the chemistry between them is comfortable and natural.
So, if you liked Sheridan’s previous work, I’d recommend Wind River. If you like modern westerns, I’d recommend Wind River. If you like somber, violent thriller films, or have an appreciation for gorgeous Wwstern scenery, I’d recommend Wind River. In fact, I’d recommend Wind River to pretty much everyone. It’s a bleak, harsh tale, filled with violence and heartbreak. And yet, as anyone who’s been out west knows, there is a beauty in bleakness, in the loneliness of the wild and the sound of the wind.