[Screen It]


(2017) (Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen) (R)

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Dramatic Thriller: A wildlife officer helps an FBI agent solve a murder mystery involving a teenage Native American.
Cory Lambert (JEREMY RENNER) is a Wyoming based U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officer known for his ability to track down and kill predators that have been afflicting farms on the remote and usually snowy Wind River Indian reservation. Tasked with finding a troublesome mountain lion, he follows its tracks, only to discover the frozen and seemingly murdered body of Natalie Hanson (KELSEY ASBILLE), an 18-year-old from the reservation. This strikes Cory to the core, what with Natalie having been best friends with his teenage daughter a few years back before her unsolved murder. That eventually led to the end of his marriage to his Native American wife, Wilma (JULIA JONES), with whom he has joint custody of their young son, Casey (TEO BRIONES).

With Natalie's parents, Martin (GIL BIRMINGHAM) and Annie (ALTHEA SAM), now informed of their daughter's death, Cory and tribal police chief Ben (GRAHAM GREENE) await the arrival of FBI field agent Jane Banner (ELIZABETH OLSEN). Not prepared for the cold environs -- what with being stationed in Las Vegas and only called upon because she was the closest agent while on vacation -- Jane sets out to solve the case, and she enlists Cory's aid in navigating the snowy woods and following tracks.

That eventually leads to them tracking down Natalie's small-time drug dealer brother, Chip (MARTIN SENSMEIER), as well as looking for the oil company worker, Matt (JON BERNTHAL), she was apparently seeing, along with some of his unsavory co-workers, such as Pete (JAMES JORDAN). As Cory works hard to help Jane by tracking down the killer, he must contend with the emotions all of this brings back regarding his own daughter, her untimely death, and his inability to solve that case.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
It's always fun and inspiring to watch talent blossom. Parents, teachers, coaches and instructors get to witness it all of the time with kids, but sometimes the blossoming occurs long after the child has left the nest.

That often occurs in college when young people find their passion and come into their own, but occasionally it takes place years or even decades after that. And that's usually when someone decides to change gears and switch out their line of work for something new, while others segue into a new facet of their existing life.

I don't know much about Taylor Sheridan other than that he made his first acting splash -- at the age of 35 -- in TV's "Veronica Mars," followed by a stint on "Sons of Anarchy." Then, at the age of 40, he decided to try his hand at screenwriting and the results were immediately impressive. First up was "Sicario" and then "Hell or High Water" a year after that, an effort that earned him an Oscar nomination.

That's an impressive segue and blossoming of talent, and he continues that transition with "Wind River," a dramatic thriller that he not only wrote, but also directed (technically it's his sophomore outing behind the camera, but I don't know if his debut -- the low budget horror flick, "Vile" -- ever saw the light of day, let alone a projector). While it might not be quite as brilliant as the filmed versions of his last two scripts, it's still quite a riveting drama, thriller and character piece.

What I've loved about Sheridan's past screenplays is the depth of the characters who feel like they could be real people rather than Hollywood constructs. The same holds true here as we meet Cory Lambert (a terrific Jeremy Renner), a hunter/tracker for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who works the remote and mostly desolate lands of the Wind River Indian reservation.

The showing of the American flag seen flying upside down above that coupled with the fact that he's a man whose job is to track and kill troublesome predators tell us all we need to know but also leaves us guessing about how things will play out once he finds the frozen body of a teenage girl he knows.

Throw in the fact that she was the best friend of his daughter who died three years earlier under similarly mysterious (and ultimately unsolved) circumstances only heightens the suspense and viewer engagement into both the character and story in which he appears.

He ends up coupled with a young FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen, who's good, but I wish her character was a little more fleshed out to match Renner's) who must work the case, not ready for the wintry Wyoming environs and without much help outside of our tracker and the local tribal police chief (Graham Greene, as good as always).

Like any murder mystery, that leads to following clues, interrogating those who might know something, and finally confronting the villains. Considering how everything else feels like a fresh take on tried and true material, some viewers (and more likely some snobby critics) might find that conventional plot approach a bit disappointing.

To yours truly, it's anything but that, and there's even a brief gotcha plot moment where something unexpected occurs out of place in the story's time continuum. It's arguably the most riveting and intense part of the film, and with it leading to an outburst of violence, that gives the offering something of a slight Tarantino vibe.

With excellent tech credits all around (especially from cinematographer Ben Richardson who expertly captures the beautiful but bleak remoteness of the environs), solid to terrific performances from the cast, and a filmmaker who shows he's comfortable blossoming into a writer/director -- and one who's going to be a cinematic force to be reckoned with for years to come -- "Wind River" is definitely worth seeing. It rates as a 7 out of 10.

Reviewed August 18, 2017 / Posted August 25, 2017

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