‘’Danger comes with the territory’’, the tagline say it all. Director Taylor Sheridan takes us on a murder mystery on an Indian reservation in Wyoming, a veritable Third World country in the American heartland. (If only there was someone who could, I dunno, make America great again for its Native citizens, but alas such a person doesn’t exist).
We follow US wildlife agent Cody Lambert (Jeremy Renner), as he takes his son to visit his ex-wife’s Native parents on the Wind River reservation. While tracking a mountain lion that attacked cattle, Lambert discovers the body of Natalie Hensen, a girl who was friends with Lamberts own late daughter. Calling in the Tribal police who in turn call in FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) to investigate. Banner enlists the help of Lambert and his expertise as a tracker to help find Natalie’s killer, Lambert agrees to after promising Natalie’s father Martin that he’ll kill the person responsible.
The autopsy reveals Natalie was raped before escaping, having run six miles in the snow, barefoot before collapsing from frozen air bursting her lungs. Banner and Lambert then interrogate Natalie’s brother Chip (Martin Sensmeier) who tells them Natalie was dating a white man named Matt (Jon Bernthal). Along with Tribal police they head to the oil refinery where Matt works. Matt’s co-workers attack, a flashback sequence revealing they where the ones who assaulted Natalie and beat Matt to death. In the following shootout, Banner gets blasted; saved only by her Kevlar, while the Tribe cops are all killed, but Lambert shoots the remaining oil workers, gets Banner a medical helicopter and then hunts the last man.
After tracking down Pete, the man responsible for Natalie and Matt’s death, Lambert forces him to confess before letting him run off, where Pete then dies the same way Natalie did. Banner recovers and Lambert returns to Martin to tell him his daughter have been avenged (and you thought I wouldn’t slip an Avengers reference in there, this film has 3 Marvel actors for crying out loud!)
Wind River could best be described as a modern Western, like a western it features a small town, a killer on the loose and a lone lawman out to bring justice. It also doubles as a social commentary about life on Native American reservations, which are beset by poverty, drugs and mental illness, the Tribal police chief even says how many Natives will get arrested just to have a 3 warm meals and a place to sleep. It also touches on the sexual victimization of Native women, and how they are the highest demographic of missing persons in the US, the characters of Lambert and Matt are motivated to protect the women they love without going into full white savior territory and you do feel for not only them but for all those still resigned to reservations like Wind River.
If you want to check out more police procedurals like this, I recommend Skinwalkers: the Navajo Mysteries available on Netflix or if you’re more of a reader pick up Vertigo comics series Scalped.
By Daniel Murphy