In a foreshadowing of the carnage to come, Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) shoots a wolf as it's about to attack a herd of goats. The riveting opening scene of Wind River, the new drama from writer-director Taylor Sheridan, the guy who penned the scripts for films such as Sicario and Hell or High Water, effectively sets the tone for the intense film.
After killing the wolf and dragging its body away, Cory drives to his Native American ex-wife Wilma's (Julia Jones) house to pick up their son and take him to the Wild River Indian Reservation where the boy's grandparents live. She's heading out of town for the weekend, and the parents will babysit the boy. After the grandfather tells Cory about a mountain lion that killed one of his steers, Cory hops on his snowmobile and rides out to the scene of the crime. He follows the mountain lion tracks only to find a dead woman, whom he instantly recognizes as Natalie, a Native American woman who was friends with his daughter.
Cory reports the incident to the authorities. Because Natalie was raped and beaten, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), an FBI agent, comes to investigate. Unprepared to deal with the harsh Wyoming winter weather — she flies in from Vegas and doesn't have boots, gloves or anything resembling a winter jacket — she relies on Cory to help her investigate the crime.
A hunter by trade, Cory possesses remarkable instincts when it comes to investigating a homicide, and it's not long before he and Jane start following a trail that leads them to an oil rig site where Natalie used to go to visit her boyfriend Matt (The Walking Dead's Jon Bernthal), a security guard at the place. Matt's boisterous pals don't take kindly to Jane and Cory traipsing onto their property, and a heated exchange follows as Jane and Cory try to enter the trailer where Natalie was last seen. That confrontation sets the stage for the film's explosive ending.
Throughout the movie, we see Native Americans living in poor conditions. The extreme poverty often leads to other problems such as drug addiction and depression. And because Native American women are more likely to be assaulted than women of other races, they're particularly vulnerable. The film aims to call attention to these issues.
As much as the film depicts just how rough life on a reservation can be, the movie is also simply about grief and despair and how people struggle to cope with tragedy. Renner brings a real intensity to his character, a man who has a hard time overcoming his past. A lesser actor, Olsen isn't as well suited to her role as the green agent who comes of age, but she holds her own as do the other actors, some of them Native American, in other smaller roles, in this finely crafted film.