By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
From Taylor Sheridan, the acclaimed writer of Sicario, and Hell or High Water, comes this powerful and intense slow-burning mystery thriller that addresses the horrible treatment of Native American people in the United States. Wind River is not just another screenplay for Sheridan, it is also a film he directed and one that he did quite well. With fierce action, a socially relevant crime mystery, and superb performances by the cast, Wind River is another Taylor Sheridan joint not to miss.
In the snowy land of the Wind River Indian Reservation, a young Native American woman’s body gets discovered by US Fish and Wildlife Service agent Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner). Lambert a well-known and well-liked resident of the close-knit community recognizes the woman as Natalie Hanson (Kelsey Asbille), daughter of good friend Matt (Gil Birmingham) and best friend of his dearly departed daughter. Clues in the snow leading to the body indicate that Natalie’s death was probably caused by the harsh cold conditions, but they also indicate that she was running away from either someone or something. Rookie FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) gets dispatched to further investigate, but is completely unprepared for the bitter climate. Since Lambert knows the terrain quite well and is familiar with the native people, he and a Native American police chief named Ben (Graham Greene) assist her with the full investigation.
With Wind River, Taylor Sheridan not only shows his writing skills once again, he also proves himself as a competent and talented director. The screenplay may not be a major game changer for crime mystery thrillers, but Sheridan tells the story well, with a deliberately paced build-up, solid development of genuine characters, and an explosive climax that is sure to leave audiences breathless. Sheridan also offers an important and valuable message about disparities between Native Americans and the rest of American society.
I especially applaud Sheridan and his casting director for casting mostly actors of Native American heritage in the film. In addition to the outstanding performances of Kelsey Asbille, Gil Birmingham, and Graham Greene, the film features great turns by Julia Jones, Apesanahkwat, Tantoo Cardinal, Althea Sam, Tokala Clifford, Martin Sensimeier and Tyler Laracca. Graham Greene definitely stands out for his wonderful turn as the sardonic Native police chief and Gil Birmingham offers a moving performance as the deeply pained father coping with the loss of his daughter Natalie.
As far as the two leads are concerned, Renner is perfectly cast as the stoic, always focused, but charismatic Cory Lambert. Renner subtly indicates that Lambert always carries with him an inner turmoil caused by the untimely death of his own daughter, but always remains cool and concentrated at the matter at hand. He shares an awesome chemistry with Elizabeth Olsen who portrays the less-seasoned FBI agent Jane Banner. Much like the dynamic the two share as mentor and mentee in the Marvel movies, the relationship between their characters in this movie plays out similarly. Olsen, once again, shows impressive chops as a tough and courageous agent who still has more practical experience to obtain, but learns quite a bit during the investigation of this horrible crime.
Several films have been made regarding the horrible crimes inflicted among the many tribes of Native American throughout history, but Sheridan’s film brings it closer to home at a more personal level. The untimely loss of any child will always be tragic, especially to the parents and other loved ones who survive the child. Wind River is guaranteed to make its audiences reflect on these emotions and place it within the larger context of the atrocities committed to Native peoples over the years. It is an enthralling movie that I must highly recommend.