Taylor Sheridan's script credits include last year's hit neo-western Hell and High Water. Squint through the snowscapes by director of photography Ben Richardson and this procedural could be High Water's wintry cousin.
Like many similarly snowy Scandi-crime sagas, Wind River begins with the corpse of a young woman. Natalie (Kelsey Asbille) has been raped and has run a considerable distance on her badly frostbitten feet before succumbing to pulmonary haemorrhage caused by rapid inhalation of sub-zero air. That is the very specific opinion of Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) the US Fish and Wildlife Service agent who discovers the body while out tracking a family of mountain lions. His quick medical appraisal impresses Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), a young FBI rookie who arrives on the scene, ill-prepared for both the weather and a murder investigation. "See what they sent us?" scoffs the local tribal sheriff, Ben (Graham Greene).
So far, so Nordic noir. But Wind River's strong sense of place differentiates the film from the rest of the genre. The rundown reservation of the title, a place of "snow and silence", is defined by socio-economic deprivation, drug abuse and violence. The murder victim, it transpires, is not the only young woman to meet an untimely end in this far-flung, at-risk community. With limited resources, Cory, Jane, Ben and several troopers are working against the clock. "This isn't the land of back-up, Jane," explains Ben. "This is the land of 'You're on your own'."
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis's score is as sparse as the frozen horizons
Weary, resilient locals trade in dark, cynical humour: one elder drily predicts a future wherein "the world starts eating their golden retrievers". Nick Cave and Warren Ellis's score is as sparse as the frozen horizons.
It's unfortunate that the heroics fall to Jeremy Renner. The actor, in his defence, has never been better, but a genuine Native American ought to have been cast in a role that entails reference to "my people" and "my family" (The get-out clause: Cory was formerly married to a native American).
The screenplay can sound a little too much like the rejigged draft of a novel or play (Jon Bernthal, on excellent form, turns up to deliver what can only be described as a soliloquy). The female characters need some work: Olsen, in particular, is given comparatively little to do. It's a compelling procedural, nonetheless.