Wind River a riveting murder mystery that digs deep into dark places

Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen investigate a murder at Wind River Indian Reservation.
Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen investigate a murder at Wind River Indian Reservation.PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

The story: Wildlife agent Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is making a routine call at the Wind River Indian Reservation when he stumbles on the frozen corpse of a girl. The find prompts the appearance of FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen). As the pair criss-cross the reservation making their investigation, they see a people scarred by poverty, drugs and despair.

This gripping, crisply executed murder mystery is deeply interested in ripping off the veil hiding a community's secrets. The nuts and bolts of the crime procedural - the whodunnit - take second place to shining a light into shadowy places.

Stories about a naive detective stumbling into a world both alien and hostile are aplenty: There is Witness (1985), set in the Amish community; and in science fiction, Blade Runner (1982).

Also, look to any number of dramas in which a newly arrived big-city cop finds his investigations hampered by a communal code of silence, a set-up parodied in Hot Fuzz (2007).

But premise aside, everything else about this movie feels fresh and powerfully authentic.

Olsen's Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Banner is the audience's way into the story of the Wind River Reservation, a community where violence, especially towards women, is rampant.

With the help of gruff backwoods expert Lambert (Renner), a man also burdened by loss, she traces the steps taken by the victim before her death.

Taylor Sheridan is the writer behind crime thrillers woven through with social commentary. His Sicario (2015) examines how drug cartels have turned border towns into hell on earth, and in Hell Or High Water (2016), the writer imagines a Texas in which bank robbery might be a sane response to predatory lending practices.

  • REVIEW / CRIME THRILLER

  • WIND RIVER (M18)
    106 minutes/Opens tomorrow/4 Stars

As writer and director, he does what he can to avoid stereotypes of native Americans as addicts, drunks and abusers of women, and mostly, he succeeds.

Ultimately, however, this is still a white-saviour story - a story told from the white point of view and in which white persons are both villains and heroes, and natives the secondary characters and pawns.

That weakness aside, there is little to fault the structure and plotting of this taut tale, one with a climax that is startling, savage and brilliantly staged.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 22, 2017, with the headline 'Riveting murder mystery that digs deep into dark places'. Print Edition | Subscribe