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'Wind River' Film Review: A taut thriller that resonates

August 9, 2017Ben MK

As two of the principal actors in Marvel's Avengers franchise, Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen have battled evil, sentient robots hellbent on bringing about the destruction of civilization as we know it. Their latest big screen collaboration, however, unfolds on a much smaller scale, and it has them treading on darker, much more sinister territory.

The mystery at the core of Wind River — the death of an 18-year-old girl (Kelsey Asbille) from the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming — is one that feels ripped from the headlines, but at the same time, it also isn't. That's because each year in North America, countless Aboriginal women fall victim to similar circumstances, yet the plight of missing or murdered Indigenous women is an epidemic that goes largely ignored by the mainstream media, with little to no news coverage, let alone any proper statistics about just how many women it afflicts.

Renner plays Corey Lambert, the stoic, rifle-toting wildlife officer who stumbles upon the girl's body while out hunting for a lion that's been preying upon livestock on the reservation. Having lost his own 16-year-old daughter three years earlier, the discovery dregs up painful memories for him and his Native American ex-wife (Julia Jones), and it sets him on a deeply personal quest to find the girl's killer. To do so, he teams up with Jane Banner (Olsen), a rookie FBI agent from Las Vegas who finds herself, unsurprisingly, out of her element in the Wyoming snow.

The directorial debut of Hell or High Water and Sicario screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, Wind River was also scripted by Sheridan, who continues to demonstrate an acute understanding of just what makes a crime thriller of this nature tick. Entrenched firmly in the gritty authenticity of its characters and the desolation of their surroundings, the plot is deceptively simple, but it doesn't rely on stylistic flourishes, procedural mumbo jumbo or excessive violence to keep viewers engrossed, instead leaning on the outstanding performances of its actors.

At the forefront are Renner and Olsen, who are joined by their counterpart from the television side of the Marvel universe, Jon Bernthal, whose brief role provides the movie with its best expectation-subverting moment, if only for the way it plays on Bernthal's reputation for taking on usavory characters. However, it's their Aboriginal co-stars, among them The Twilight Saga's Gil Birmingham, The Magnificent Seven's Martin Sensmeier and veteran actors Tantoo Cardinal and Graham Greene, who deliver the film's rawest and most gripping performances.

The result, though still somewhat rough around the edges, earns a well-deserved place as one of the most captivating modern-day, Western-themed crime classics in recent memory, putting Sheridan in good company among such directors as the Coen Brothers and John Sayles. Make no mistake, Wind River may trade the arid, desert-like landscapes of Sheridan's previous two films for barren, snow-blown vistas, but the outcome is comparable, proving that the genre isn't simply about the setting — it's a state of mind.

Wind River releases August 11th, 2017 from VVS Films. The film has an MPAA rating of R for strong violence, a rape, disturbing images, and language. Its runtime is 1 Hr. 47 Mins.

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