WIND RIVER: The isolated title setting is as much of a primary character in this movie as are the local game tracker (Jeremy Renner) and the “fish out of water” FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) investigating the mysterious death of a young Native American woman (Kelsey Asbille) on a reservation. Ben Richardson’s snowbound cinematography captures a landscape capable of sudden blizzards and violence that overshadows the narrative’s murder mystery that never really has any suspects. Most of director/writer Taylor Sheridan’s (SICARIO) screenplay is character driven with Renner (See CLOSING CREDITS.) giving an excellent understated performance as a professional with a haunted past who’s capable of compassion along with dispensing cold-blooded justice. Equally good are Olsen (SILENT HOUSE) and Graham Greene (DANCES WITH WOLVES) as a stoic local sheriff with strong ties to his community and loads of local wisdom. The musical soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis is foreboding with a hint of sad wistfulness toward a region and a culture that are living on the fringes. For the most part, the movie avoids any kind of grandstanding jingoism related to the plight of Native Americans but manages to allow the dialogue to make its points. The unraveling of the “whodunit” is graphically harrowing and somewhat abrupt owing to its arrival with little to no transition except for a stand-off that looks straight out of RESERVOIR DOGS (1992). But the movie fits into the classification of a modern Western with people cut off from the rest of the outside world who are forced to be a law unto themselves. As one character puts it, “You’re on your own out here”. That reliance on self-sufficiency and preservation is at the core of this film which is smartly written with a strong ensemble cast who can convey emotional feelings with mere facial expressions or a passing glance.
CRITIC’S GRADE: B+
CLOSING CREDITS: Here are some other excellent movies starring Jeremy Renner – NORTH COUNTRY (2005), TWELVE AND HOLDING (2006), THE HURT LOCKER (2008)*, THE TOWN (2010)**, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL (2011), THE AVENGERS (2012), AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013), MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION (2015), THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015), CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016), ARRIVAL (2016)
*Academy Award Nomination for Best Actor
**Academy Award Nomination for Best Supporting Actor