Wind River is the final film in Taylor Sheridan’s unofficial “Modern Frontier Trilogy,” and only one he has directed rather than just writing. They are thematically linked by merging the film noir with the western in a contemporary American landscape. The previous film in the unofficial trilogy, Hell or High Water, came out in the midst of the 2016 election landscape, and perfectly summed up the desperation that made some vote for a charlatan like Donald Trump.
Wind River also has political desperation underpinning it, but in a very different way. It’s a murder mystery about a Native American woman who is found dead on her tribe’s reservation. The story is set against the background of the relentless landscape of the snow plains of Wyoming. In one of his best performances to date, Jeremy Renner plays the local tracker, Cory Tracker, who ends up teaming up with FBI rookie Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olson). Banner first arrives to determine if a murder took place, but soon is wrapped up in the mystery that surrounds the death, and the secrets hiding under the surface of the town.
The action of the film is very much character-driven, which is Sheridan’s style. It’s a slow burner until the reveal of the murderer, but due to Sheridan’s strong sense of story, landscape and character, the film isn’t dull for a moment. It’s a film that never second-guesses the audience’s intelligence and doesn’t offer any easy answers. Renner, who can do this type of role in his sleep, is his usual gruff self. The real standout, however, is Elizabeth Olson, who is of course the younger sister of the Olson twins. She perfectly gets the fish-out-of-water nature of her character, and completely holds her own against Renner. There is also a very moving performance by Gil Birmingham as the victim’s father.
The film deais with government bureaucracy and how Native American women are treated on reservations and by the federal government. The film ends with a shocking but blunt end title card stating that there are missing-persons statistics for every single demographic group except for Native American women, and those numbers are unknown. Ironically, the Weinstein Company was originally going to distribute the film, but they dropped it after Sundance and Lionsgate dropped their name and logo from the film in all streaming and home media release after Harvey Weinstein’s very public fall from grace over dozens upon dozens of reports of sexual misconduct.
The disc includes two deleted scenes and a very short featurette, which is just an extended trailer with some interview clips.