Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen track predator in Western noir
Taylor Sheridan, the writer of the Academy Award nominated 2016 neo-Western “Hell or High Water,” follows up that effort with another Cormac McCarthy-type tale, this one written and directed by him and based on “real events.”
“Wind River” begins with Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a divorced father and hunter for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, finding a young woman frozen to death. She was from a reservation in Wyoming, and fled for miles in the night snow on frostbitten feet. She had also been raped.
In opening scenes, the head of the reservation police force, Ben (the great as usual Graham Greene), whose “force” is miniscule for the size of the territory it covers, asks for support from the FBI. The federal agency sends only the young, untested Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), who steps into a fraught and tense situation unprepared for the social and meteorological complications she is about to face.
Cory, who carries a stainless steel Winchester with a scope and wears camouflage in the field, kills wolves preying on sheep and rides his Ski-Doo across mountains and through trees like he is being chased by the devil himself.
Cory has an adolescent son — his teen daughter was murdered — and he is on good terms with his ex-wife, Wilma (Julia Jones), who is of Native American descent. Cory is also close with Wilma’s family. The mystery surrounding the death of the young woman found in the snow mirrors the death of Cory’s daughter, Emily, and brings back memories.
The new case brings Cory and Jane closer together as they methodically retrace the hours prior to the victim’s death. Renner and Olsen have good chemistry and, of course, also play superheroes professionally. Cory is kind of like Hawkeye. Olsen has no superpowers as Jane, except the good sense to wear her body armor while surrounded by hung-over macho men bearing firearms.
“Wind River,” which takes its name from the reservation where the victim, Natalie Hanson (Kelsey Asbille), lived with her grieving father (Gil Birmingham, “Hell or High Water”) and mother (Tantoo Cardinal). Cory’s ex-in-laws also live on the “res” and that is where he drops off his young son to track a marauding mountain lion and her cubs.
The lions represent nature’s natural order as opposed to the unnatural crimes of evil human beings. I suppose Sheridan could not resist at least one tip of the hat to “The Silence of the Lambs.”
A few speeches go on too long. But the score by Warren Ellis and Nick Cave adds to the neo-Western noir mood, and in addition to being a taut procedural with the dreamy inevitability of a slow-motion collision, “Wind River” is an astute depiction of life in what was once the majestic American wilderness, where Native American families live in poverty and security guards stationed at remote drilling sites may exist in conditions that are not much better.
Renner, who has the looks of a supporting player but the charisma and screen presence of a leading man, is riveting. I’d like to see more of Federal Wildlife Officer Cory Lambert.
(“Wind River” contains extreme violence, a graphic sexual attack and profanity.)