Wind River (2017)

  • Time: 110 min
  • Genre: Action | Crime | Mystery
  • Director: Taylor Sheridan
  • Cast: Jeremy Renner, Jon Bernthal, Elizabeth Olsen


An FBI agent teams with a town’s veteran game tracker to investigate a murder that occurred on a Native American reservation.


  • (RATING: ☆☆☆☆ out of 5 )

    GRADE: B


    IN BRIEF: Taylor Sheridan’s riveting murder mystery is a well written thriller that boasts a terrific performance by Mr. Renner.

    SYNOPSIS: On a remote Indian reservation, a FBI recruit and a local townsman team up to solve the murder.

    RUNNING TIME: 1 hr., 47 mins.

    JIM’S REVIEW: The riveting opening scene in Taylor Sheridan‘s Wind River, immediately draws us into this thriller: At a Native American reservation, a bloodied young woman trudges through the sub-zero elements in central Wyoming, finally collapses, and dies. Barefoot and frightened, her wintry death sets up a murder mystery. Her frozen body is found by the town’s wildlife officer / hunter, Corey Lambert (Jeremy Renner). Leading the investigation is FBI agent Jane Benner (Elizabeth Olsen). A newbie with the bureau, she wisely knows that in order to solve this case, she needs local help. So she enlists the aid of Corey, who knows the town and its people, although he is a bit of a loner with very little social skills and a tragic past. The duo set out to find their suspects and bring closure for their victim and her family.

    Screenwriter Mr. Sheridan (Hell or High Water, Sicario) once again tells his story with skill and style. He focuses on the murder investigation while subtly showing the socioeconomic hardships of the community and its toll on the citizenry. The town is filled with desperation and loss and its inhabitants are all prime suspects in search of redemption. This talented screenwriter, making his fine directorial debut, delivers an engrossing narrative and imbues his characters with insightful dialog that keeps his film riveting from start to finish. His film is atmospheric and moody and his characters have an authenticity that is usually lacking in this genre.

    The one issue that I had with the film, which keeps it from being highly recommended, is the mystery itself. The storyline remains involving but it is just too simplistic, needing more intricate plot structure to completely satisfy. When we finally meet the perpetrators, everything appears far too obvious. That said, the screenplay still resonates with its complex characters and their impassioned monologues and eloquent conversations that create lovely moments about the human condition.

    The acting is uniformly strong. Graham Greene as Ben, a Native police officer, provides his customary able support and Gil Birmingham as the victim’s father is quite moving. (The scenes between the two grieving fathers are very poignant and emphasize the personal drama most effectively.) Kelsey Asbille and Jon Bernthal make a lasting impression as the film’s doomed lovers. Ms. Olsen is fine as the FBI agent, although her character’s naivety and lack of training seems bewildering at times, which cuts into the logistic of the story.

    However, Mr. Renner is a revelation. He underplays his character’s angst and subtly shows his sense of mourning. He internalizes the man’s melancholy and regret. His is a powerful performance and one wishes this gifted actor would be offered more complex roles than his typical shoot-em-up action fare and playing one-dimensional comic book superheroes.

    Wind River has its scenes of action and sudden violence in its storytelling that will please the action aficionados in the audience. Yet the film’s greatest asset and driving force is not so much the mystery or its action sequences. It is the film’s deeply personal human story that slowly unfolds. That, and Mr. Renner’s memorable character and Mr. Sheridan’s poetic words of wisdom make this moviegoing experience quite special.

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  • An FBI agent straight out of Las Vegas, hires a game tracker to help solve a rape and eventual murder. That’s the essence of Wind River, my latest review. Elizabeth Olsen plays agent Jane Banner and Jeremy Renner plays Wildlife Service expert Cory Lambert. So OK, it has been over a month since I’ve given a favorable write-up. With “River”, I figured I was due.

    Distributed by the Weinstein Company and released at Sundance via January of this year, Wind River is filmed in Utah but its setting is Wyoming. So yeah, we get it. It’s darn cold in Wyoming. And despite a few images of beautiful, mountainous scenery, “The Cowboy State” is a pretty dour place to live in as well. A wrongdoer in “River” quips, “there’s nothing here but snow and silence!” Later on, the protagonist preaches, “you either survive or surrender”. Finally, that same protagonist exclaims, “luck don’t live out here”. Here’s an idea, why don’t these characters just get up and get the heck out of Wyoming. Jeez.

    Anyway, Wyoming is like a star in “River” and it’s referenced to the point where obviousness becomes a dirty word. I mean, this isn’t Devil’s Tower Wyoming we’re prattling about nor is it summertime Wyoming like in Brokeback Mountain. No I’m talking the Wind River Indian Reservation where blizzards come and go, temps drop to -20 degrees Fahrenheit, crime/drug use is a mainstay, and the police force is comprised of only six people. To quote humorist Dorothy Parker I say, “what fresh hell is this?”

    Now as a movie clocking in at just under two hours, Wind River is like Fargo on downers, Cliffhanger minus the popcorn heroics, or The Grey without crashing 747’s. In hindsight, it’s a brutal motion picture, cloaked in vulnerability, violence, false mercy, loud bullet-ridden gunfire, and naked depression.

    Director Taylor Sheridan working from his own, figurative script (Sheridan penned 2015’s Sicario), doesn’t obsess with wide shots and cinematography that has the wilderness at his full disposal. He’s more into his story which is well told even if the methodology is straightforward in the whodunit department.

    Taylor carefully inserts a devastating flashback toward “River’s” conclusion while getting superb performances from his leads (Renner and Olsen). He does go a little overboard adding a souped- up Mexican standoff and a death sequence by which the main malefactor dies from inhalation of sub-zero temperatures (it didn’t even look like it was that cold out). But hey, with all the blood and white flakes and symbolism (you could even throw in a haunting violin soundtrack as well), it’s just way too difficult for me not to recommend Wind River. Rating: 3 stars.

    Rating: 3 out of 4 stars

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  • Snow and silence are all one has on the Wind River Indian Reservation, and in that snow and silence lies the body of a young Native American woman discovered by Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a wildlife officer whose main duty is to hunt and kill predatory animals. The victim’s name is Natalie Hanson – her feet are bare, her lungs burst from inhaling the sub-zero cold, there are signs of rape, and she ran for at least six miles before giving out.

    The mystery of Natalie’s death forms the crux of Wind River, Taylor Sheridan’s second directorial effort (the first being the low budget horror film, Vile), though as with his screenplays for Sicario and Hell and High Water, the thing that defines the genre is not necessarily central to what the film is truly about. Instead, Sheridan uses the genre as a framework to express insightful observations about the landscape and the mentality of the people within that landscape. Which is not to say that he gives the genre short shrift – there are influences here ranging from John Ford and Sam Peckinpah to televised Scandinavian detective thrillers such as The Killing – but what could have been a by-the-numbers whodunit is elevated by Sheridan’s inculcated specificities.

    Sheridan’s screenplays are elegantly constructed, lean but never lacking, and they have a way of rooting themselves within you so that, for example, the exchange between Lambert and Natalie’s father Martin (Gil Birmingham) mutates into something more than one man offering cold consolations to another. “The only comfort is getting used to the pain,” Lambert tells Martin. Not only do you feel the depth of Martin’s loss, but the strong suggestion that Lambert’s words are derived from firsthand experience. Indeed, Renner’s contained performance is a marvel of calibration as one gradually realises how much of a human hurt locker Lambert is. His personal connection to the crime leads him to help Jane Banner (an excellent Elizabeth Olsen), the rookie FBI agent called in from Las Vegas who may be ill-equipped to handle this frozen tundra of a town and its often narrow-minded inhabitants, but who consistently proves herself to be tougher than she appears.

    “This isn’t the land of backup, Jane. This is the land of: You’re on your own,” Tribal Police Chief Ben (the wonderful Graham Greene) says and, indeed, the film is as much about survival as it is solving a crime. Everyone in Wind River is trying to survive – racial discrimination, weather conditions, living with loss and pain, each other – and they don’t often have the luxury of letting themselves feel emotions. Which is why moments such as the embrace between Lambert and Martin, Lambert sharing the story of his loss with Jane, and Natalie in bed with her boyfriend Matt (Jon Bernthal) are even more powerful in their quiet and vulnerability.

    Sheridan not only succeeds in creating a humanistic drama and a gripping murder mystery, he also crafts some nifty and suspenseful action sequences such as the 10-man Mexican stand-off that is the highlight of the film’s third act. Soulful and visceral, Wind River firmly proves that Sheridan’s talents lie not only on paper but behind the camera as well.

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  • Wind River is an Indian reservation in Wyoming (although its filmed in Utah). Natalie (Kelsey Asbille), a young Indian teen, is found in the snow raped and murdered by local tracker Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner, “Arrival“, “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation“). The local police, led by Ben (Graham Greene), are surprised when a passionate but naive young FBI officer – Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen, “Avengers: Age of Ultron“) – arrives out of a blizzard without remotely sensible clothing. So begins an investigation into who committed the crime, where local knowledge and skills are more applicable than all the CSI-knowhow in the world.

    This film is everything “The Snowman” should have been and wasn’t. At its heart, there are some memorable relationships established. Gil Birmingham (so good as Jeff Bridges’ right-hand man in “Hell or High Water“) plays Natalie’s dad, grieving and railing against all outsiders other than Cory, who he has a deep and close relationship with. For Cory has a back-story that goes beyond just him marrying into (and now separated from) Wilma (Julia Jones), a woman from the reservation.

    Cory himself has a role that is deep and multi-layered, and Renner is the perfect choice for it (although many scenes could have been cut and spliced into this from his – I thought really strong – Bourne spin-off “The Bourne Legacy”!). Here he has both action scenes and raw emotional scenes to tackle, and although perhaps he doesn’t quite pull off the latter to perfection, he comes pretty close.

    Elizabeth Olsen – who seriously deserves more meaty roles like this – plays a ‘flibbertigibbet’ girl (there’s an old word that needs more airtime!) who turns out to have real internal steel. Yet another admirable female role model. #She-do!

    The film also paints a vivid and intolerable picture of the dead-end nature of reservation life for many, with poor decisions as a teen (and we’ve all made those) here not being forgiven for the rest of your life.

    Written and directed by Taylor Sheridan, who also wrote “Sicario“, “Hell or High Water” and the soon to appear Sicario sequel, “Soldado”, pens some fine and memorable dialogue. “Shouldn’t we wait for some backup?” asks Banner. Ben replies “This isn’t the land of backup. This is the land of you’re on your own”. It’s a film with useful tips as well, like NEVER, EVER go for a run in seriously sub-zero temperatures! (As I’m penning this review in sub-zero Canada at the moment, this is timely advice. #skiptheruntoday.) Sheridan won a Cannes Film Festival award as director for this, but arguably it’s a shame the script has been largely overlooked for the major awards so far.

    And that land is one of the stars of the film as well. Filmed around the town of Park City in Utah, it’s gloriously snowy countryside with impressive mountain scenery.

    My only quibble with the movie is that there are some elements of the plot that don’t quite gel properly. At various times, the heavens open and it buckets down – and I mean buckets down – with snow that must add inches to the landscape in minutes. And yet Cory can still point out tracks in the snow that were made days before? Huh? Also (without spoilers) some elements of communications are also conveniently unreliable when they need to be.

    Will this be for everyone? While I commented that the excellent “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing.Missouri” (which shares similar background subject matter) did NOT have flashback scenes to the rape, this film does go there, and so might be upsetting for some viewers.

    But it’s a high-class, intelligent crime thriller that takes “Mexican standoff” to a whole new level. Recommended.

  • Having been responsible for writing ‘Sicario’, directed by Denis Villeneuve, and ‘Hell or High Water’, directed by David McKenzie, Taylor Sheridan’s directorial debut ‘Wind River’ was seen with great interest and high expectations. Mainly to see how Sheridan would fare as a director, showing himself as a great writer for those two mentioned films.

    And what a directorial debut ‘Wind River’ is. Sheridan proves himself to be the completely right director for the job and be as good a director as he is a writer, handling the tension, disturbing creepiness and pathos with a near-perfect balance and despite being a slow-burner ‘Wind River’ is mostly compelling and rarely dull. There have been a number of directorial debuts this year, Sheridan’s to me is one of the best in one of the stronger films released so far this year.

    ‘Wind River’ does have a couple of drawbacks. It does drag at times in the middle act as a result of being bogged down by having a little too much talk, and the philosophical elements are a little patronisingly heavy-handed. On the most part however, ‘Wind River’ is impeccably made, directed and acted, highly atmospheric and well balanced in tone. Of the films seen so far of all the films released last week in my country, ‘Wind River’ is in the top four along with ‘God’s Own Country’, ‘The Farthest’ and ‘IT’.

    Visually, ‘Wind River’ is impeccable. The scenery is stunning yet atmospherically desolate, accompanied by some of the most beautiful cinematography of the year so far. The music score is suitably haunting but not in an overt way.

    Despite being imperfect, occasionally being a little too talky and not faring so well in the philosophising, the script is intelligent, thought-provoking and understated. The story has suspenseful tension, poignant pathos and at times chillingly disturbing while also being an effective slow-burner and rich in atmosphere. It does get off to a great start, still engages but meanders slightly in the pacing in the middle and then goes with all guns blazing in an electrifying climax.

    Characters are well realised and interesting, while the acting is superb. Jeremy Renner gives one of his greatest performances in a role that stretches him but he shows no signs of being challenged. Elizabeth Olsen has also never been better, being responsible for one of the most convincing portrayals of an FBI agent since Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling in ‘The Silence of the Lambs’. The supporting cast are more than up to their level, especially a heart-breaking Gil Birmingham.

    In conclusion, ‘Wind River’ is more than well worth tracking down, for those who loves this sort of film it’s a must albeit it won’t work for anybody.

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