After Taylor Sheridan’s Oscar-nominated screenplay for Hell and High Water, I would follow him anywhere, even into the desolate and brutal landscape of the Wind River Indian Reservation in remote Wyoming. Here, as one character observes, “it’s sunny for an hour and you’re right back in hell again.” A frozen hell, that is.
That’s where Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner, in his strong yet silent element), a hunter for the Fish and Wildlife Service, finds the body of a barefoot young woman. Initial evidence shows that she died of exposure and lacks any sign of violence.
A fleeting image of a tattered American flag hanging upside down speaks volumes of the neglect the Native American residents of Wind River feel from their government. “See what they send us?” a sheriff (Oscar nominee Graham Greene from Dances with Wolves) asks Cory when FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olson) arrives to investigate. Though a rookie, Jane is competent, but feels like a fish out of water when she arrives under-dressed for the frigid cold. She must rely on Cory’s outdoorsman skills and knowledge of the Wind River terrain.
For Cory, the case hits too close to home. He had been married to a Native-American woman from Wind River, and the victim was a friend of their late daughter, whose death led to the couple’s separation.
Wind River is not a nice place to visit and you sure wouldn’t want to live there. “This isn’t the land of backup,” the sheriff tells Jane. “This is the land of you’re on your own.”
Sheridan, a former actor, wrote and directed Wind River. Like Hell or High Water, it’s a crime thriller with a strong social conscience. It delivers the goods with great performances and bone-chilling suspense, as witnessed in a tense climactic armed standoff that ups the ante on the confrontation between Jeff Bridges and Chris Pine that concluded High Water. It’s one of the year’s best scenes in one of the year’s best movies.