It's a cold world in rural Wyoming, just the place for a thrilling murder mystery.
Director: Taylor Sheridan (Vile)
Screenplay: Sheridan (Hell or High Water, Sicario)
Cast: Jeremy Renner (Arrival), Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene)
Runtime: 1 hr 47 min
by John DeSando
“Luck don’t live out here.” Cory (Jeremy Renner)
“Out here” is somewhere outside of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and outside of the normal advantages of a murder investigation in a big city and inside the Wind River Indian reservation. The Fargo-like white snow of writer/director Taylor Sheridan’s smart and enjoyable Wind River is as always menacing as it joins pure white innocence with dark crime.
Unlike Fargo, no laughs enter this dialogue, just the single-minded will to survive in a hostile land for everyone and a hard life for the Native Americans. A young girl has been raped and murdered, and Cory is the wildlife service’s tracker, who joins with FBI agent Jane (Elizabeth Olsen) to solve the crime.
Although the intricacies of the crime are simple when contrasted with some much bigger-budgeted thrillers, it has going for it atmosphere and acting, especially Renner’s laconic and intuitive local, whose daughter was killed in a similar manner.
The sense of place is just as strong (credit DP Ben Richardson with breathtaking views of mountains and trails). Unfortunately, the later Mexican standoff among police officers doesn’t fit with the serious nature of the film as a whole (it becomes comedy-like when it reminds you of Tarantino with its shouting and abandon).
Then there’s the villain—another almost comic touch, and clichéd when contrasted with the rest of the original material. Too bad because Sheridan had done so much original work already as he did throughout Hell or High Water.
Along with unsophisticated forensics comes commentary on reservation life such as boredom that breeds crime, lack of support from government, and few opportunities to break free of the poverty.
An epilogue states there are no stats for lost reservation women. In other words, this thriller is after bigger game than lions who devour sheep and men who murder.
Wind River shows people’s grit in the face of hardship and their will to survive. Throw in a murder or two, and that life is stripped to its bone in a world that can’t be fictionalized. This is reality, Wyoming-style.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com