‘Wind River’ is much more than a murder-mysteryReview by George M. Thomas, of the Akron Beacon Journal
It was about this time last year when a thought-provoking film came to rescue the summer, at least on an emotional, intellectual level.
“Hell or High Water,” written by Taylor Sheridan, explored desperation in America’s Southwest through the eyes of brothers who turned to bank robbery to save their property.
Sheridan received an Oscar nomination for its script. Now, with “Wind River,” he’s turned loose to write and direct, and exhibits the skills to enjoy a long career doing both. “Wind River,” which stars Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen, is a mystery that excels as a statement of government indifference to the people it’s supposed to help — in this case Native Americans.
Much in the way Sheridan and his empathetic writing style plopped you in the middle of those two brothers’ lives in “Hell or High Water,” he makes the audience feel every bit of hurt, pain and the subsequent rage and hopelessness in the people who reside on the reservation of “Wind River” in Wyoming.
Renner stars as Cory Lambert, a wildlife ranger tasked with keeping animals at bay, among other things. An expert tracker, he’s following the footsteps of a family of mountain lions when he stumbles across the body of the daughter of a close friend. She’d been raped, fled for her life and died brutally in the snow from frostbite and exposure.
It strikes a chord with Cory because of his friend, and because his daughter endured a similar fate. The murder occurred on federal land, so the FBI sends its closest agent, Jane Banner (Olsen). She enlists Cory and the local sheriff (Graham Greene) to help investigate the crime.
As they run down the plausible suspects, “Wind River” offers a tour inside the world of one of America’s indigenous peoples, as their youths face poverty, drug abuse and indifference. It’s heartbreaking stuff that Sheridan explores deeply, yet with subtlety.
As Jane, Cory and the sheriff begin to assemble the pieces to the puzzle, it becomes clear where the trail is leading. What’s impressive is how Sheridan effectively milks the moments leading up to the significant reveal for every bit of tension to keep his audience engaged.
Renner, Olsen and Greene create memorable characters. Renner’s Cory is a man whose strength hides continuing pain because of the loss of his daughter, who was biracial. He functions because he must, and in the process, he serves as guide to this world that we never see up close.
Olsen’s Jane is the wide-eyed innocent serving as the audience’s conscience, the call to wake up, and Greene, as he has in many roles, provides wisdom, common sense and humor. The three of them working in any number of combinations provide “Wind River” with plenty of heart.
Then there’s Sheridan. In the current climate, movies need filmmakers such as him who can make an audience feel a broad range of emotions. Additionally, he shows that he’s got an impressive eye behind the camera, showing the contrast in the beauty of the Wyoming landscape and the sorrows that hide in plain sight.