Film Review Wind River

Jeremy Renner, left, and Gil Birmingham are among the stars in "Wind River."

Weinstein Company

This movie will stay with you for a long time after you’re done gripping the arms of your seat.

“Wind River,” the latest from the marvelous Taylor Sheridan, the screenwriter for “Sicario” and last year’s “Hell or High Water,” also was helmed by Sheridan, who used true events for the basis of this story.

Right away, Sheridan grabs the audience. A woman runs barefoot in the below-zero cold of the Wind River reservation in Wyoming. Until the end of the movie, we don’t know her circumstances.

Jeremy Renner, who was part of the “Hell or High Water” ensemble, once again turns in a superlative performance as Cory Lambert, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent who finds a body. He then teams up with a rookie Las Vegas FBI agent named Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen, “I Saw the Light”) who encounters obstacles she never imagined, including life-threatening cold on the reservation where much of the action takes place.

Lambert is an animal tracker by trade, and he puts his talent to good use while he tries to help Banner.

Gil Birmingham, who delivered an outstanding performance in “Hell or High Water,” plays the father of the young woman whose body Lambert discovers. Graham Greene, not surprisingly, is marvelous as the weary tribal sheriff who sympathizes with Banner’s plight.

Like everything else in “Wind River,” Lambert and Banner’s investigation unfolds on the land’s terms, but it’s no triumph of nature. The setting is all crisp brooding and oppressive stillness, even when peppered with the occasional and well-choreographed bursts of action.

This is more than a mystery/thriller. It’s a crime story and a character study, too. Watch the way Lambert and his ex-wife communicate with few words.

And it’s a study of how the desolation and desperation of the cruel environment makes life harsh. “Luck don’t live out here. Luck lives in the city,” Lambert says.

Not only does Sheridan have a knack for dialogue, but he also does a fine job of showing us believable characters in realistic situations. Poverty, drug abuse and the looming threat of violence are as much a part of the environment as the snow.

It wouldn’t be fair to readers to skip over a mention of this film’s “R” rating. Some of the scenes here are brutal. They are important to the story, and are not exploitative, but they are not easy to watch.

Despite its disturbing themes and images, this is a movie not be missed by those who appreciate serious film making. There is no doubt you’ll hear about “Wind River” again during awards nominations.


Film critic/reporter since 1985 at Quad-City Times. Broadcast Film Critics Association member. College instructor for criminal justice, English and math. Serves on Safer Foundation and The Salvation Army advisory boards. Member of St. Mark Lutheran Church