Susan Granger’s review of “Wind River” (The Weinstein Company)
As this suspenseful murder mystery begins, a terrified teenage Native American girl is running across the snowy Wyoming tundra. Barefoot and bloody, she eventually stumbles and falls, dying under the bright light from a full moon.
According to Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), the rugged U.S. Fish & Wildlife Officer who found her as he was tracking a predatory mountain lion, she died of pulmonary trauma, drowning in her own blood, having inhaled too much sub-zero air, causing her lungs to burst.
That’s what both he and the coroner tell rookie FBI Agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), who declares her death a homicide. After all, there’s conclusive evidence that the Arapaho girl was not only beaten but also raped – and she was obviously fleeing from someone.
“I’m just trying to do the right thing,” Jane explains, evoking memories of Clarice Starling in “The Silence of the Lambs.”
It turns out the girl was the best friend of Cory’s daughter, who died three years earlier under similar circumstances.
As the plot unfolds, clues lead them to a nearby oil rig, where the resident roughnecks are accustomed to violence-against-women, staging a shocking shootout, reminiscent of Sam Peckinpah’s.
Best known for his “Sicario” (2015) and “Hell or High Water” (2016) screenplays, writer Taylor Sheridan makes his directorial debut, working this gritty, intricately structured thriller with subtle sensitivity and pacing finesse. His utilitarian characters are understated but deliberately delineated.
Even the supporting cast, including Native Americans actors Graham Greene as the Bureau of Indian Affairs police chief and Gil Birmingham as the teenager’s stoic father, who asks only “to sit here and miss her for a minute,” while her mother (Tantoo Cardinal) dissolves in grief.
And kudos to cinematographer Ben Richardson, who captures the savage man vs. nature essence of the desolate, impoverished wasteland known as the Wind River Indian Reservation. It’s visually spectacular.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Wind River” is a powerful, action-packed 8, concluding with the distressing postscript: “There are no records available for tracking missing and murdered Native American women.”