A surprising, tense, yet thoughtful thriller set on an Indian reservation, Wind River opens with a girl frozen in the snow. Dead, barefoot, clearly having been chased. The jurisdiction in such matters is murky and a lone FBI agent, Jane (Elizabeth Olsen), must work with the local law enforcement (Graham Greene) and a hunter from the parks department, Cory (Jeremy Renner) to figure out the case. The murder brings up past issues for Cory, who is both an outsider to the reservation as a white-man, but also part of it given his children are half-Native American.
The mystery isn’t much of a mystery. The truth is revealed relatively quickly after those involved with the truth are introduced. It’s no matter. The point isn’t the mystery of it, but the crime itself, and the hurt of those involved. Wind River tries to be a message movie, mostly due to the final title cards that punctuate the harrowing affair depicted with an unfortunate exclamation point. While it all plays out relatively easily, it’s a surprisingly engaging movie with two strong leads and a bevy of great supporting turns. Cory’s final moments with Martin (Gil Birmingham), the father of the victim, are deeply affecting, and rest on the shoulders of two thoughtful, stoic, but endearing performers.
As opposed to other recent films, it was nice to see a movie with real tension, with strong characters whose actions make sense. Writer-director Taylor Sheridan (he also wrote Sicario, and Hell or High Water) captures the bleakness that many feel about reservation life, and the emptiness that comes from the situation, but he also infuses the film with an airy sense of hope and togetherness, without being overt or forced. There are some great scenes that come out of nowhere (can I call this movie surprising one more time?), but keep things interesting. The climax is thrilling, and the final moments play out honestly. A really good movie that deserved a bigger audience.
My Grade – B+