'Wind River' is a brutal, essential thriller

Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner star in Wind River (Photo: Fred Hayes © 2017 The Weinstein Company. All Rights Reserved)

Wind River
4 out of 5 Stars
Taylor Sheridan
Writer: Taylor Sheridan
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Graham Greene
Genre: Thriller, Mystery
Rated: R for strong violence, a rape, disturbing images, and language

Synopsis: A game tracker (Jeremy Renner) teams with an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) to solve a murder that took place in the vast empty space of a Wyoming Native American reservation.

Review: Taylor Sheridan, the screenwriter behind “Hell or High Water” and “Sicario,” shifts behind the camera to direct his script about the lawless nature of Wyoming’s Native American reservations. Sheridan’s stories are filled with introspective characters who are struggling with the situation they are placed in. These characters are good at heart, but broken and flawed in unique ways. His films also feature bursts of graphic violence, an anger that bubbles beneath the surface,

Filmed in Northern Utah, “Wind River” is a beautiful, but bleak film. It is a world buried beneath a heavy snow; a cold and unrelenting place where no one but the Native Americans and the oil company employees live. Everyone has either been place or forced to be there. Nature is unforgiving and indiscriminant.

Jeremy Renner stars as Cory Lambert, a game hunter still trying to get over the death of his teenage daughter. He’s come to hunt mountain lions, but finds the body of a young woman frozen in the snow first.

Murders that take place on a Native American reservation fall under the jurisdiction of the FBI. As such, Agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is sent to investigate. Banner is instantly in over her head and turns to Lambert’s tracking skills to help her find and disseminate clues.

Lambert isn’t a traditional hero; he’s cut from the cloth of the gun-slinging lawmen of the Wild West who bring their own form of law to the remoteness of the land they watch over. He is justice; exact and unforgiving.

“Wind River” is not for the fainthearted. It smolders for the bulk of its running time, a long fuse that eventually reaches the powder keg. The sense of dread and suspense is sustained from the moment Lambert initially finds the body on through to the film’s final scene.

The cast, which also includes Graham Green, Julia Jones and Gil Birmingham, is uniformly fantastic, but it is Renner and Olsen who carry the bulk of the narrative. It’s still early, but I’d short list Olsen and Renner as almost-certain nominees and potential winners come award season. I expect to see Sheridan in the conversation for his screenplay and possibly his direction as well.

Simply put, “Wind River” is one of the best films I’ve seen this year.

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