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Premieres; 112 minutes.
With "Wind River," screenwriter and now director Taylor Sheridan completes a trifecta of deeply layered, character-driven neo-Western crime dramas, and one that tops the other two, "Sicario" and "Hell or High Water."
Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is a hunter for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, precisely shooting wolves and other animals that threaten the humans in his Wyoming district. That district includes the Wind River Indian Reservation, where Lambert goes looking for a reported mountain lion when he finds tracks in the snow that lead to a frozen 18-year-old woman, Natalie Hanson (Kelsey Asbille).
The reservation's police chief (Graham Greene) calls in the FBI, who sends a rookie agent, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), to oversee the investigation. Banner, inexperienced with winter weather, asks Lambert to help with the investigation.
The investigation proves emotionally difficult for Lambert. For one thing, the victim's father, Martin Hanson (Gil Birmingham, from "Hell or High Water"), is an old friend. For another, the method of Natalie's death is similar to the way his 16-year-old daughter Emily was killed three years earlier.
That last bit of information would make a viewer guess which way Sheridan is going with this story. Those guesses are wrong, because this modern spin on the classic Western like Sheridan's other screenplays goes in directions one would never suspect.
Sheridan again shows his skill at exploring complex social issues the war on drugs, the toll of foreclosures, the struggles of reservation life by wrapping them in the guise of a pulse-pounding thriller.
The snowy landscapes the movie was shot in Utah, largely in and around Park City are beautifully captured by cinematographer Ben Richardson. He also has a hand in Sheridan's coup de grace, a kinetic shootout scene that will leave audiences breathless.
Olsen gives a strong performance as Banner, a take-charge Fed who knows she's out of her depth. However, the soul of "Wind River" is in Renner's understated and wrenching portrayal of a hunter trying to tamp down his emotions as he aims to exact some sort of rough justice.
– Sean P. Means
"Wind River" screens again at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival at the following times and venues:
• Sunday, Jan. 22, 9 a.m., Eccles Theatre, Park City
• Sunday, Jan. 22, 6:30 p.m., The Grand Theatre, Salt Lake City
• Wednesday, Jan. 25, 9 p.m., Sundance Mountain Resort Screening Room
• Saturday, Jan. 28, 11:59 p.m., Library Center Theatre, Park City