‘Wind River’ Shines a Light on the Hardships of Reservation Life

For his directorial debut, “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water” screenwriter Taylor Sheridan tackles the plight of Native Americans, particularly Native American women, in the crime thriller “Wind River.” Jeremy Renner stars as Cory Lambert, a hunter of sorts whose job it is to take out dangerous animals that are a threat to domesticated creatures and humans. He spends much of his time at Wind River, a massive Native American reservation in Wyoming. Although not a Native himself, he has connections to the reservation, as his former wife (Julia Jones) is from there, along with his former in-laws (Apesanahkwat and Tantoo Cardinal), his young son’s (Teo Briones) grandparents. It is there on this land the size of Rhode Island that he discovers in the snow the body of a young woman who is identified as Natalie (Kelsey Asbille), 18. Cory calls higher authorities, and the FBI calls in the closest agent, Las Vegas-based Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen). Ill-equipped for the freezing weather, she borrows snow attire that we eventually learn belonged to another woman near and dear to both Cory and Natalie, whose own death three years prior to the story makes the case extra personal for Cory.

Although not a man of the law, Cory utilizes his skills to assist Jane as she navigates the tough winter conditions. Together, they figure out how Natalie died and it’s more horrifying than one would imagine. Although the local police force does their best to help, lack of resources and infrastructure present a problem. To illustrate how bleak conditions are in such a vast, sparsely-populated stretch of land, in one scene a young man is gravely wounded in a shootout and is left to die because the nearest ambulance is one hour away. As the end credits reveal, violence against Native Women is all too common, and it often goes underreported. This is due not only to dire living conditions, but also in large part to apathy from outsiders for a community that is often marginalized.

The discovery of a second body sees the pieces coming together, and all of this drudging through the snow leads to a big reveal shown through the POV of the deceased. What starts off as a joyful rendezvous turns to tragedy as a deadly mix of toxic masculinity, alcohol and isolation lead to an explosive situation. In present day, an epic standoff ensues, one that is intensified by the blinding white snowy backdrop.

Renner gives a winning performance here, one that brings to mind Liam Nesson in “Taken,” keeping a cool head while cleverly taking down the bad guys. Predictably, Cory and Jane grow close as he becomes protective of her, wanting to keep her safe to make up for his failure to protect the other young women. Not that she needs much protection, as Olsen — best known for appearing in indie films — takes her career to the next level here as she  portrays Jane as a woman who holds her own against the men, using her own wits and strength to bring about justice.

Wind River” opens Aug. 4 in select theaters and expands nationwide Aug. 25.