A haunting opening leads us into a mystery that slowly turns up the heat until we’re caught up in the fierce boiling rampage of a well-crafted thriller. Wind River is inspired by all too common horrors that take place on Indian reservations throughout the country, including the one at the heart of this film. A remote Wyoming reservation exists in a seeming vacuum, at once part of the country yet disconnected from it in all of the wrong ways. The average life expectancy of its residents is an abysmal 49 years. Unemployment hovers around 80%. Crime is rampant. Violent crime is as common as bike thefts in a major city. It’s a bleak daily reality that few Americans can even begin to fathom.
This backdrop is where young, wide-eyed FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) finds herself when Fish and Wildlife agent Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) uncovers a dead body in the heart of the reservation’s vast wilderness. Banner discovers a community that functions in ways distinct from everything that she knows, and the locals are all too eager to remind her of that at every turn. Meanwhile, Lambert has his own deep experience with the community. He’s a respected local with his own cross to bear.
Writer/director Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water and Sicario) gives us a film with unforgettable imagery and a punch that leaves an indelible mark long after viewing. Its only drawback is that it takes a good 30 minutes to get out of a very low gear before slamming violently into overdrive. Once it gets moving, there’s no getting out of its way. Its snowy, isolated, oddly dreary landscape cuts through us as effectively as an arctic chill through a worn T-shirt.