Wind River **1/2

Chilly murder mystery features solid performances and a decent story until it starts to lag in the end. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

The Wind River Indian Reservation is a terrible place to call home. In “Wind River,” all the locals hate it. It’s cold, isolated, unforgiving and horribly dull. It’s also, through the eyes of writer/director Taylor Sheridan, a pretty effective setting for a murder mystery.

Jeremy Renner stars as Corey Lambert, a hunter/tracker in this remote and frigid Wyoming territory. When working in the vast mountainside he discovers the body of Natalie (Kelsey Asbille), a local teen whose father (Gil Birmingham) is an old friend of Corey’s. With the well-meaning tribal police, led by its chief (Graham Greene), of little help, F.B.I. Agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) enlists Corey’s assistance to find out who raped and murdered Natalie.

Jane isn’t fresh out of the academy the way Clarice Starling was in “The Silence of the Lambs,” but she may as well be. She’s from Fort Lauderdale, was stationed in Vegas, and shows up in Wind River wearing a thin jacket and heels. Later she gets maced while confronting a suspect, and after that has a rude surprise happen while knocking on a door. She’s competent, but this is all new for her, and one of the appeals of the film is watching her navigate this unfamiliar territory.

Really, though, it’s Renner’s movie. His Corey is an emotionally broken man who’s excellent at what he does, and uses this expertise to maneuver as needed to find answers. At some points it may come a bit too easily for Corey, but because he’s a sympathetic figure and we like the chemistry he shares with Jane, the story keeps us engaged.

Until it doesn’t. If the first two-thirds of Sheridan’s (“Hell or High Water”) film provide a good story and drama, the last third falls apart. The villains are introduced late, the resolution is unsatisfying and the ending is overall anti-climactic. At one point Corey refers to a character as dying “with a whimper”; the same could be said of the movie.

Still, there are enough positives to make it marginally worth watching, including impressive cinematography by Ben Richardson (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) and a musical score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis that is appropriately ominous without being overbearing. There are also some nicely acted individual scenes, including a law enforcement standoff and the flashback to the night of the rape.

Crime-driven, snow-covered movies like this are inherently fascinating. “Fargo” is the best of its kind, but there’s also the underappreciated “Snow Angels” and “A Simple Plan,” to name two more. There’s something about the harshness of the elements reflecting the bitter cruelty of the story that often allows the films to really click. “Wind River” may not click as much as it should, but it uses this appeal in the best ways possible.

Did you know?
The film was shot on location in Park City, Utah, which is home to the Sundance Film Festival. It made its world premiere at the festival in January 2017.

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