Hell or High Water and Sicario screenwriter Taylor Sheridan is trying his hand at directing. And I am here for it. Wind River, which Sheridan also wrote, might not be your typical, seat-gripping thriller, but it will make you sweat and it will hold your attention. While some scenes are hard to watch (trigger warning: there is a pretty graphic rape scene that I had to turn my head away from), the mystery and intrigue will keep your eyes locked on the screen.
On the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is a hunter and tracker who discovers the body of a young Native American woman in the snow, miles away from civilization. Not knowing how to handle this, the local authorities (Graham Greene) call for help and the FBI sends in rookie agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) to figure out what exactly led to this woman’s death.
Jane is unprepared for everything about Wyoming. She’s not properly dressed, she doesn’t fully grasp the way the of life here, and she definitely doesn’t understand the harsh realities of being a Native American woman. No one reported this girl missing – a girl who ran for six miles in the snow without any shoes. What was she escaping from? How did she get here? Jane questions how it was possible for this girl to even survive that long. Cory volleys back by asking her, “How do you gauge someone’s will to live?” With the help of Cory and his knowledge of the lay of the land, Jane works with the tribal police to solve the case of, what they suspect is, a woman (we learn her name is Natalie later on) who was murdered.
Wind River is a tense, layered crime drama shrouded in mystery, playing out almost like an extended episode of Criminal Minds. It’s a slow burn at the beginning, but things unfold pretty quickly after that. Overall, the pacing of the film hits the right note. And while our main attention is held by the crime aspect of the film, Sheridan also weaves in some incredibly raw and honest dialogue about life, death, and grief – particularly any and all scenes with Martin, Natalie’s father (Gil Birmingham).
Ultimately, Wind River is a character-driven film hidden under the guise of a murder. Olsen doesn’t bring much to the table; she’s fine, but, ultimately, forgettable as Jane. Her Avengers co-star Renner is a different story. His performance is subtle, but nuanced and he has one menacing scene that chilled me to the bones. The plot may be about Natalie’s death, but Wind River is all about Cory and his relationships.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around the dissonance of a White man telling the story of a missing Native American woman through the eyes of a White, male character. And I’m still not convinced that such a disturbing and graphic assault scene added anything to the movie. But what I can say is that I appreciate that there is a mainstream film out there that is trying to bring attention to this national (both in Canada and in America) crisis of missing Native women. Even though Natalie’s case is solved, in the real world, many families never get the closure that they need. The truth is, when Native women go missing, they are rarely found alive. Google “missing Native women” and almost every article will tell you the same, harrowing truth. “While missing person statistics are compiled for every other demographic, none exist for Native American women.” These words are last thing you see on screen. And if two Marvel stars can help get the word out about this epidemic, then so be it.