Taylor Sheridan, the celebrated writer-director of “Wind River,” has a strong feel for the agitations and ennui brought about by life in wide-open spaces. He also has a gift for dialogue that is laconic without seeming lazy. These talents were paramount in his script for “Hell or High Water,” probably the best-written movie of 2016.
“Wind River” starts out on the same high plane. Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a hunter who works for the wildlife office in a remote area of Wyoming that encompasses a poverty-stricken Native American reservation, discovers the dead body of a young girl in the snow, barefoot, bloodied, and sexually violated. In attempting to solve the crime, local authorities bring in an unseasoned FBI agent, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), who joins the far more experienced Cory to track the killer.
The film is gracefully directed around the edges, but the core story, a kind of existential murder mystery, is swallowed up by a series of increasingly outlandish plot devices involving drug runners and Tarantino-esque shootouts. Olsen does as best she can with a perplexing part – why would she arrive in this freezing hinterland so ill-equipped with even the basics of survival? – while Renner, more somber and indrawn than usual, seems geared up for a better movie than the one he’s in. As the father of the murdered girl, Gil Birmingham, who was so good in “Hell or High Water” as Jeff Bridges’s lawman partner, is equally fine here. Grade: C+ (Rated R for strong violence, a rape, disturbing images, and language.)