The camera swoops over rocky peaks and muddy roads covered in ice and snow. It’s an inhospitable and barren environment, as inviting as the Sahara Desert or the middle of the Pacific Oceans. It’s wintertime in Wyoming and it’s about as forgiving as an Old Testament god.
Wind River, from writer/director Taylor Sheridan, opens in this desolate wasteland with Natalie (Kelsey Asbille) running shoeless through waist-deep snow in the middle of the night. We don’t need anyone to tell us she is running for her life. A day or two later, Cory (Jeremy Renner) finds the remains of her boyfriend (Jon Bernthal) frozen in a snow bank, half of his body devoured by wolves.
Since both deaths occurred on the Wind River Indian Reservation, the F.B.I. sends a lone rookie agent to investigate. All signs point to murder but to find the culprits Agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) will have to sift through a depressing past and a pessimistic present.
Wind River is the story of the guilt white America brings to the reservation and the resentment the reservation harbors against the Americans who sequestered them. Sheridan uses the Cory character to act as the bridge between the two worlds, and, with the help of Renner, he almost pulls it off. Cory may be the hero of the picture but, in the end, he is just another broken man who has suffered a catastrophic loss.
Wind River paints a bleak picture, at times not bleak enough. Sheridan pulls his punches when he really ought to lay it on. That would make the movie almost unwatchable but, then again, there are aspects of life that are unbearable. A movie is often designed to give the audience catharsis. Wind River doesn’t even come close. Just a reminder that even though we are watching a story, the reality is much worse.
Wind River is in limited release.