WIND RIVER

Hawk­eye hits the spot… OUT 8 SEPTEM­BER

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Jeremy Ren­ner hunts an ice-cold killer.

Wind River is the name of a Na­tive Amer­i­can reser­va­tion in the Wy­oming wilds. It’s also a de­scrip­tion of the un­for­giv­ing ter­rain, a cen­tral char­ac­ter in Tay­lor Sheri­dan’s su­perb mys­tery. In these sub-zero tem­per­a­tures, flesh black­ens with frost­bite in min­utes, and hunter Cory Lam­bert (Jeremy Ren­ner) dresses like a stormtrooper on Hoth. “It could be sunny for an hour,” he says of the weather. “Then you’re in hell again.” In­deed, we are.

While out on the reser­va­tion track­ing a moun­tain lion, Lam­bert finds the body of lo­cal girl Natalie (Kelsey As­bille), raped and bat­tered. Cru­cially, it was the cold that killed her, af­ter she ran, bare­foot, for miles from her as­sailant. “How do you gauge some­one’s will to live, es­pe­cially in these con­di­tions?” asks Lam­bert. He’s been here be­fore – his daugh­ter was found in sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances – but this time he’s drawn into the cen­tre of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Lo­cal police chief Ben (Gra­ham Greene) doesn’t have the man­power to cover such a huge, in­hos­pitable area. “I’m used to no help,” he huffs.

The FBI agent as­signed to the case, mean­while, is the tough but painfully un­der­pre­pared Jane Ban­ner (El­iz­a­beth Olsen), chan­nelling a touch of Clarice Star­ling. “The body’s five miles on a snow­mo­bile,” Lam­bert tells her. “You’ll be dead be­fore you get there.”

Sheri­dan wrote Hell Or High Wa­ter and Si­cario, two of the best US thrillers of re­cent years, and has a pow­er­ful sense of how loss and the land­scape carve them­selves into his char­ac­ters. In Wind River, ev­ery­one is adrift. “Lo­cals” such as Lam­bert are viewed with sus­pi­cion by the Na­tive Amer­i­cans; Ban­ner is treated with out­right con­tempt by all but our hero; and the younger gen­er­a­tion fill the voids of poverty and hope­less­ness with drink and drugs.

As a lim­ited man wrapped in a grief that won’t pass, Ren­ner is on his best form since The Hurt Locker. “I’d like to tell you it gets eas­ier,” he tells the girl’s griev­ing fa­ther (Gil Birm­ing­ham). “It doesn’t.” Olsen and Greene are ex­cel­lent, as usual; there’s a bold, al­most mys­ti­cal score from Nick Cave and War­ren El­lis; and Sheri­dan’s script is al­ter­na­tively tough and ten­der. The film may take its time to get go­ing, but each char­ac­ter has an arc, how­ever bru­tal, and the ac­tion scenes, when they come, are spiked with sud­den, shock­ing blood­shed. One raid has Ban­ner, half-blinded by Mace, tak­ing on a trailer full of ad­dicts – as de­press­ing as it is thrilling. A Mex­i­can stand-off is not just a flash­point, but a metaphor for ab­ject law­less­ness: it’s kill or be killed, some­times both.

In com­par­i­son with the mer­ci­less vi­o­lence of the cli­max, the clos­ing scenes are a touch me­an­der­ing. But per­haps this is a nec­es­sary cathar­sis, given the in­ten­sity of what’s gone be­fore. De­spite the pa­rade of preda­tors – moun­tain lions, wolves, black spi­ders scut­tling across the ice – it’s man that’s the real an­i­mal here; rap­ing, killing, tak­ing re­venge with grim im­punity. Even the good guys beat con­fes­sions from their sus­pects. Out here, Sheri­dan seems to be say­ing, no one has ju­ris­dic­tion, not even God, and he fled the scene years ago. Who can blame him? Matt Glasby

THE VER­DICT

Sheri­dan di­rects as well as writes for the first time, and de­liv­ers a su­perb thriller with a pow­er­ful chill that gets in your bones. Smart, tense and soul­ful.

El­iz­a­beth Olsen’s in­com­ing FBI agent enlists the help of Jeremy Ren­ner’s lo­cal hunter.

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