By Bradley Griffith
It may have taken almost nine months, but the first great drama of the year has finally arrived. Don’t get me wrong, “Wonder Woman” is a great movie, but it doesn’t have the sizzling drama, palpable tension, and intriguing mystery of “Wind River.”
Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent in Wyoming. The focus of his job is primarily acting as a hunter and a tracker. It’s what he does every day. He takes care of troublesome coyotes and dangerous mountain lions. He works in places where no one else dares to go, places that few humans have ever seen in the vast landscape that is Wyoming.
While on a hunt in the backcountry of the Wind River Indian Reservation Cory comes upon the dead body of Natalie Hanson (Kelsey Asbille). The body is found five miles by snowmobile from any civilization in a foot of snow, wearing no shoes or socks, and with a blood stain on her pants. Cory abandons his hunt for the mountain lion and embarks on a different kind of hunt.
The tribal chief of police, Ben (Graham Greene), calls the FBI for assistance. The tribal police investigate assaults and similar crimes on the reservation, but the FBI investigates murder. Rather that the seasoned and expert investigator that Cory and Ben were expecting, the FBI instead sends Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen). Jane is young, inexperienced, and not prepared for the harsh weather and vast wilderness of Wyoming.
To Jane’s credit, she realizes that she is out of her depth and needs help. The FBI won’t send any more agents and she can’t do it all on her own. Ben has only seven officers to patrol an area roughly the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined. She needs someone who knows the Wind River Indian Reservation and knows all the local people. Cory agrees to help Jane, though it’s more like Jane is assisting Cory.
If you love edge-of-your-seat dramas with real characters and real mystery, this is the movie for you. There are great scenes of intense action woven into the plot, but “Wind River” is a perfect combination of a drama and a thriller. When the action comes, it’s fast and furious. But what really makes the movie so entertaining are the moments of smoldering tension and introspection between the acts of violence.
“Wind River” is about three things – the fantastic story, the depth of the characters, and the barren and breathtaking scenery. Taylor Sheridan wrote and directed “Wind River.” You may recognize him as an actor on “Sons of Anarchy” or recognize his work as the writer of “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water.” His writing in all three movies is top notch. He writes stories filled with tension, barely contained rage, and tragedy. His writing in “Wind River” is inspiring.
The script is written so that it not only highlights the drama and the action, but also the characters. In the quieter moments of the movie Sheridan reveals parts of the true character of each person in the movie. You feel like you know the characters on a deep level by the end of the movie. Jeremy Renner gives what may be the best performance of his career with great supporting roles by Elizabeth Olsen and Graham Greene.
“Wind River,” though it was actually filmed in Utah rather than Wyoming, is filmed so that the spectacular winter vistas are part of the movie itself. The brutal and raw landscape not only directs many of the actions taken by the characters, but actually lends a hand in solving the crime. You will feel a chill watching this movie on the hottest day of the year.
“Wind River” is the best movie of the year. Though it has been shown mostly in limited release, it is expanding into more theaters each week and is a movie that should be seen on the big screen to be fully enjoyed.
• • •
Rated R for strong violence, a rape, disturbing images, and language.