A stark and powerful mystery thriller, with a mood of deep melancholy that stuck with me long after I’ve left the theatre. Part of it is the natural setting, the vast, silent wintry expanses of snow and forbidding mountains of Wyoming, where the story takes place. While beautiful in its own way, this desolate environment makes for a harsh life. Another part is the sorrow and desperation of the people who live on the edge of this wilderness, and the hard-hitting, ugly violence of some key scenes. And there’s the haunting, sparse score from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.
Jeremy Renner plays Cory Lambert, an animal tracker who, on one of his hunting expeditions, finds the frozen body of a Native American young woman, who we’ve already seen at the very start of the film, running barefoot through the snow under a full moon. Apart from the tribal police, the case is also investigated by the FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), who comes from Las Vegas ill-equipped for the brutal life-threatening cold, and is out of her depth while trying to get the information from the locals. This is an insular community, riddled with poverty and drug abuse and mistrustful of the government. Cory and Jane end up working together to solve the mystery; Cory’s tracking skills come in handy and he’s on intimate terms with the people, having been married to a local Native American woman. Currently divorced after a devastating personal loss, Cory also has his own reasons for helping out with the case.
The direction is assured and there are fine performances from Olsen and Graham Greene as the weary no-nonsense tribal chief, and thankfully no forced romance between Cory and Jane, which I was dreading a bit since their first meeting could have been a meet-cute in another movie. I haven’t watched Hurt Locker and I’ve only seen Jeremy Renner in bit parts here and there, but in Wind River he gets a rich lead role and puts in a stellar performance. Some of his best scenes are the heartfelt conversations with the father of the dead girl, whose stoic and macho veneer crumbles in his grief. These scenes felt so genuine it was the closest I was to tears at the cinema in a long time.
For some reason, the online booking system messed up my order, and instead of the third row from the back I got designated a seat in the second row of a very tiny cinema. After spending a few very uncomfortable minutes craning my neck up and getting nausea from the occasional handheld camera shots, I rebelled and went to the back, where I located a lucky last free seat. If it wasn’t available I’d probably be forced to just walk out.