At the end of Wind River, the major-film directorial debut of Taylor Sheridan, we are informed that no records are kept of how many Native American women go missing each year. It is an odd political note on which to conclude. Because while Wind River revolves around the disappearance and death of a young Native American woman, she is largely missing from the film herself, appearing alive only in one brief flashback.
Instead, the film is concerned principally with the fates of the fathers of such young women, two of whom appear in the film as principal characters. Which raises the questions: Is Wind River a story about the unacknowledged trials of Native American women? A sincere exploration of male grief? Or simply a vengeance movie that leverages the deaths of young women to up its emotional kick? I don’t doubt that Sheridan aspired to some combination of the first two; I fear that what he wound up with was closer to the final one.
Jeremy Renner plays Cory Lambert, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent tasked with patrolling the snowy wildernesses of Wyoming in winter. While out hunting for a predatory mountain lion, he instead comes across the body of a young woman (Kelsey Asbille) frozen in the snow. She had been sexually assaulted before fleeing barefoot into the night, until her lungs literally burst from gulping the subzero air. Her name is Natalie, and she was the daughter of Martin (Gil Birmingham), a close friend of Cory’s.