By Chloe Dascoli
In the dark of night a woman runs, barefoot, through a field of snow before collapsing out of breath—her lungs bursting in the subzero temperatures. The woman, Natalie, stands again leaving behind red stains in the perfect snow. She continues on through the white but her fate is certain.
“Wind River” dives into the world of an Indian reservation reeling from tragedy by binding together the beauty of snow and the brutality of harsh winter. Here there are no statistics; when women go missing or are found murdered they become part of the unknown numbers.
While the investigation of Natalie’s murder takes front seat there are more nuanced, underlying stories that drive the movie forward. The plot is intricately woven, almost torn between two stories. One follows the search for Natalie’s killer. The other, arguably the true story the film tries to tell, is Cory Lambert’s (Jeremy Renner) own personal search for closure.
“Luck lives in the city,” says Lambert. “Luck don’t live here. Out here you survive or you surrender.” Lambert, a hunter and tracker with the Fish and Wildlife Service, is helping Agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), an FBI agent stationed in Las Vegas, track down Natalie’s murderer.
The two are such opposites that their personalities balance out seamlessly. Lambert is calm, collected, one with nature and the world he lives in. The film’s mild identity crisis only comes from the lack of screen time used to address Lambert’s family, a central part of his personal conflict. But Renner delivers the character with more emotion and thought than he’s brought to the screen since “The Town” (2010).
To balance Lambert’s calm is Banner’s headstrong naïveté. While little to no backstory is given for her we can gather from her nervous entrance, abrasive façade and innocent reactions that in all probability she is a rookie agent, only sent to the reservation as she was the closest to the scene. Despite being a foreigner to the land and customs she pours passion into her search.
She proves her strength throughout the film with every hit, blow of pepper spray and bullet she takes. Lambert’s strength, despite age or experience, mirrors Natalie’s, giving her and others like her a voice and removing the stigma of “victim.”
Olsen has slowly built a name for herself with a resume of teenage indie films and minor roles in major superhero movies. Her embodiment of Banner, though, is outside anything she has done yet and establishes Olsen as a versatile actress with grit, free from the reputation of her family name.
It’s not only the cast who drive this project toward genius. Director Taylor Sheridan, whose only other directorial credit is 2011’s horror flop “Vile,” leads the film with masterful restraint. Where Sheridan could have pushed the drama with twenty-first century visual effects and an overpowering score he held back and kept the experience raw and real.
“Wind River” throws the audience into its plot as bystanders observing the unraveling of the mystery. It is a plot as complex and two-sided as the white snow that fills every shot. On one hand it is hope, purity, innocence and individualism. But on the other hand it is cold, desolation and isolation. The white Wyoming winter backdrop proves the perfect place to weave together these conflicting feelings. The final product is pulled off expertly, in a way that will leave you believing in the capabilities of man—both strength and brutality.