REVIEW: ‘Wind River’ Works As Crime Drama And An Emotional Character Piece

Taylor Sheridan, who wrote two the great “Sicario” in 2015 and the superb “Hell or High Water” last year, returned to write a third movie and this time he directed, too.

The film is “Wind River” and the name is based on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, where the picture takes place. The movie tells the story of Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a tracker and hunter working for the Bureau of Land Management who comes across the body of a murdered woman on the reservation.

As a result, Lambert gets in contact with the Tribal Police Chief Ben (Graham Greene) who in turn gets assistance from an FBI agent named Jane (Elizabeth Olsen). As the three conduct the joint investigation, Lambert’s background is expanded upon and the audience learns that he lost a daughter and she was discovered similarly to the woman that he found.

The latter part of that story summary is why “Wind River” really works. Of course, this is a well made, interesting crime drama, but there’s more to it than that. Through both his writing and direction, Sheridan paints a very emotionally powerful portrait. Not only has the lead character dealt with loss, but the setting itself creates a tragic scene.

The Wind River Indian Reservation faces issues such as high unemployment and high school drop out rates, and the film does a fine job in capturing these aspects. It all ties into the harsh reality that the protagonists are trying to solve a crime in. The film extends this point by also bringing up the tragic amount of missing Native American women cases that regularly go unsolved.

The gravity of that reality is portrayed through Lambert, who’s forced into facing inner turmoil because of the investigation. It’s truly a solid character piece.

At the same time, as previously stated, the film also works as a crime tale. Like his other works, Sheridan takes a very realistic approach with the story, keeping it grounded and the mystery rather simple, rather than having some crazy twists and turns.

The only issue of the film from a story perspective comes in its third act. Up until the movie’s climax, it had been working as sort of a slow burn, but then the climax seems to happen so quickly. Additionally, the way the climax rolls out seemed somewhat unrealistic.

Another issue I had overall was with Olsen’s character Jane. While I do think Olsen did a great job in the role, I also feel that the character was played up as too much of a ‘fish out of water.’ For the most part, she is a good character, but there were times when the movie seemed to build up how foreign she was to the environment a little too much.

Lambert, meanwhile, is a phenomenal character, especially thanks to Renner who gives one of the best performances of his career. For much of the film, Lambert is quiet, reserved and stoic, yet he lets his emotion show in some very key scenes which are well acted by Renner. He’s a character that the audience can have great empathy and understanding for and by the end of the film viewers will likely find themselves fully appreciating the lengths he goes to for justice.

A lot of credit has to go to the supporting cast, too, with great performances coming from Greene as the Tribal Police Chief who’s doing the best he can with a limited department and Gil Birmingham, who portrays the father of the woman who was murdered.

Another important factor in “Wind River” was the cinematography. The cold, wintry and isolated environment is very well captured by the camera through some fantastic long shots. The movie also makes it a point to capture the hardship of life on the reservation through its camera work.

Overall, “Wind River” is a finely crafted piece of work. The acting is fantastic across the board, the technical aspects are solid, the story is compelling and the film sheds a spotlight on an important subject. There were a few negatives here and there, but for the most part this is a great movie. 4.5 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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