Wind River ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

In Wind River, the tracks of predators and prey, both animal and human alike, constantly dot the endless, perpetually snowy landscape, inevitably leading to traumas that, while they may be past, are anything but forgotten. The "River" in question is a Native American reservation in Wyoming, where, somewhere in this desolate, lifeless landscape the size of Rhode Island, an 18 year-old Native American girl is found brutally raped, her body frozen to the ground so solid that a chainsaw has to clear her from the unforgiving frost. A young agent from the FBI gets called in, a local Wildlife Service agent gets involved, and together, the two of them must find out what happened to the girl on that bitterly cold, horrible night.

If all of that sounds like setup for a rather familiar detective thriller, that's because it is; Wind River doesn't break any new (frozen) ground when it comes to its particular genre, but then again, it doesn't pretend to. Rather, first-time director (but veteran screenwriter) Taylor Sheridan takes the suspenseful style he honed on the American frontiers of West Texas and the Mexican border in Hell Or High Water & Sicario, and applies it to the forgotten, neglected wasteland of Wind River, a place that's depressed in both the economic and spiritual sense of the word, where poverty is everywhere, drug addiction runs rampant, and, due to the bureaucratic nightmares that intersect between tribal, local, and Federal authorities when it comes to jurisdiction over crimes on reservations, many serious offences (including murders) are often never punished, or even solved.

Into this daunting situation steps Elizabeth Olsen's determined, but out-of-her-element FBI rookie Jane Banner, joined by Jeremy Renner's grieving, divorced, world-weary Wildlife agent Cory Lambert, a man who has a rather personal connection to this particular case, as, not only was he the one who discovered the young woman's body, but the girl in question used to be close friends with his daughter, who herself was murdered under similar, unsolved circumstances a couple of years ago, a loss that Lambert admits he still hasn't recovered from, nor ever will. But, like I said before, pretty much none of the base material here is particularly original, it's the personal touch in Sheridan's direction that makes all the difference, as he never hesitates from taking the time to slow down the pace drastically, and just let us get to know the characters ourselves through quiet scenes of his insightful, sharply-written dialogue, balancing the character to character heart-to-hearts inbetween the film's more visceral, intense thrills.

And, while the central mystery isn't much of a, well, mystery, as, except for an unexpected flashback that takes place late in the third act, the plot proceeds in a rather simple, straightforward manner, with next to no red herrings or "persons of interest" to speak of, it isn't the suspense of where the investigation may lead that makes Wind River so good, nor is it the thrills of its various armed standoffs/shootouts (although those are quite good in their own right), but it's the touches of personal, human drama that happen along the way, the way that Sheridan genuinely cares for his characters here, and the way that they're treated as much more than just hollow puppets to move the story along, that makes River as powerful, as memorable a cinematic experience as it is. Long after you leave the comfort of your air-conditioned theater, the physical & emotional atmosphere of the vast, frozen landscape presented here will chill your bones, the tracks dotting it leaving visible marks as undeniable as the spiritual ones staining the souls of the people who live there.

Final Score: 8.5

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