Greg Eichelberger reviews 'Wind River'

Greg Eichelberger
Staff Writer

The first rule of filming a murder mystery on an Indian reservation is that an Indian is never involved in the killings. Whether that adage is followed in this newest feature by Taylor Sheridan (in his directorial debut, but a screenwriter on "Sicario" and "Hell Or High Water") viewers will have to find out for themselves.
"Wind River" tries to shine a new light on the old murder mystery format, in this case following a fairly incompetent FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen, "Ingrid Goes West") who teams up with a local game tracker with a haunted past (Jeremy Renner, "Captain America: Civil War") to investigate the murder of a local girl on a remote reservation (thus the title) in the hopes of solving her mysterious death.
Despite strong performances by Oscar-nominated Renner, as well as several of the supporting characters, the film drifts and meanders at points which belays the directors inexperience behind the camera.
Here, we're presented more of a treatise against the unchecked violence committed against Native-American women, rather than the work of a couple of mismatched characters trying to work together to solve the crime.
Early on, we learn that Cory Lambert (Renner) married a Native-American, had two children and divorced. We also discover that his teenage daughter is dead — but we never really find out exactly what happened.
While hunting for a predatory mountain lion (and her kits), he discovers the frozen body of Natalie (Kelsey Asbille, the "Teen Wolf" TV series).
Before she's thawed out for an autopsy, though, Cory has already ascertained the cause of death, right down to breathing in sub-zero air, the blood vessels in the lungs freezing, bursting and drowning the victim.
Meanwhile, Jane Banner (Olsen) is the fish-out-of-water agent trying her best to graduate from the Clarice Starling School of Law Enforcement Incompetence Then Redemption, but fails early and often.
Since the feds have authority over Indian lands, she arrives in the bleak, frozen, barren landscape (heightened by Ben "The Fault In Our Stars" Richardson's fine lensing, although it's no "Fargo") from Las Vegas completely unprepared for the climate of wintertime Wyoming. This is supposed to by ironic, but it's been done before — and better.
To continue, Jane also insults the father of the victim, Martin (Gil Birmingham, "Transformers: The Last Knight"), with her lack of knowledge of Native-American traditions, among other things. In searching a meth house where Martin's son hangs out, she and the Wind River police chief, Ben (Graham Greene, Academy Award-nominated for "Dances With Wolves") are maced, but she still manages to kill the perpetrator.
Her and Cory then take a snowmobile (in this film referred to as "snow machines") to follow a set of tracks and discover another body, this one of Natalie's boyfriend (Jon Bernthal, "Baby Driver").
Something dirty is afoot and through a rather long flashback cleverly placed in the middle of the investigation, we find out that there may be white people to blame— maybe.
Sheridan also handles the writing chores here, so the praise is all his, but the faults are also. Armed with a good cast and a strong narrative, "Win River" scores high overall, but the one thing that kept bothering this reviewer was the complete lack of detail in regards to making a movie based on a winter climate. OK, it's a minor point, but having lived in Missouri, Illinois, Utah and Idaho, I can tell you about cold weather. Here, we know the exterior shots were filmed in Park City, Utah, but the interior work was in a Southern California studio where you cannot see your breath. Any temperature below freezing will cause this. Films like "The Revenant"and "The Hateful Eight" show this. "Wind River" does not and it is disconcerting — to me, at least.
Overlooking this, the only other negative was somewhat slow and uneven pacing and a running time which could have been shaved down about 10 minutes. Still, it's an intriguing project with probably more potential then we see on the screen. Adding the closing crawls about the abuse and disappearance of Native-American women is a new and — hopefully — short phenomenon of turning a fiction film into a cause célèbre.
I mean, after all, "Gone With the Wind" did not denote how bad slavery was in a concluding explanation; nor did "The Godfather" tells us facts about the Cosa Nostra the movie did not already reveal.
Grade: C+