The Bock’s Office: ‘Wind River’ a bone-chilling Western
The stark landscape of the West looks no less desolate when it’s covered in snow, and if anything it’s more intimidating for anyone foolhardy enough to be out and about on a cold winter night. But, it’s when this uneasy peace is shattered with unwelcome sounds that a movie like “Wind River” gets moving.
The vastness and unforgiving terrain of Wyoming’s Wind River Indian Reservation makes law enforcement more difficult than many regions, and combined with the complications of tribal land, policing the area is a tricky matter for outsiders.
Even so, that doesn’t stop Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), an agent with US Fish and Wildlife Service, from wanting to see justice done when he finds the body of a teenage family friend (Kelsey Chow), frozen in the middle of nowhere, the victim of a possible homicide and likely worse.
The case attracts the attention of the FBI, represented by novice agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), whose hands are tied when it comes to moving forward with an investigation due to the details involved, requiring her to rely on the expertise of the local agencies.
Navigating the delicate matter must be done with the utmost care due to the attitude of the residents in the rural area and the short window of time to catch whoever’s responsible, though what the small crew finds may be deadly.
Renner rarely shows any hesitance stepping into roles like these, and he gives another command performance as an expert tracker who stumbles across the scene and finds himself thrust into a far more personal quest than he expected.
Lambert’s familial ties allow him to function as an insider in the tribal scene — the reservation specialized for Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho — though it’s that same background that makes the ordeal more painful, having lost a daughter in almost the same way.
Olsen keeps an even keel as a decided outsider, whose clothing choices are immediately regretful upon coming to Wyoming — Hey, she came from Florida — and make her a source of mockery, but she quickly earns respect with an unflinching determination to do what she must.
Even though they make a good team, a pair of the Avengers can’t do everything, much less win over some of their initial suspects, leaving the ever-underrated character actor Graham Greene to bridge the gap as the tribal police chief who’s used to dealing with minimal resources and personnel.
Then there’s Gil Birmingham as the girl’s grieving father, who makes the most of mere minutes on the screen, encapsulating the rage and sorrow of a parent who not only loses their child but is basically told it was bound to happen.
At least he’s taking it better than her mother…
A puzzling disclaimer before the credits about the mystery-shrouded statistics of missing Native American women gives even greater credence to a superb neo-Western, part of the Modern American Frontier trilogy along with “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water” from writer Taylor Sheridan, as well as the first he was able to direct himself.
Sheridan doesn’t get too wrapped up in the politics, but he does provide a somber look at life in a place where hope isn’t in heavy supply, and the weak don’t last long.
There’s always a feeling of intrusiveness in this wintry wasteland — filmed in Utah — be it in the feds disrupting an already tenuous equilibrium or humanity’s relationship with the animals of the locale, Lambert’s day job of thinning out excessive predators a key story element.
For better or worse, the sound is a character in itself as editors intentionally go from seasonal silence to a deafening roar in every other scene, as shotgun blasts, snowmobile engines and even the spray of a can of bear mace are amplified well beyond their normal decibels to put the audience right in the action.
The tactics in its presentation make “Wind River” a lively watch, but it’s the grim realism of one of the stronger writing talents working today that already makes it a must-see.
Still, just as you wouldn’t head into the mountains without gloves, parka and boots, don’t forget the earplugs before heading into the theater.