Loss Piles Up Deep As Wyoming Snow Drifts In 'Wind River' The police procedural/Western centers on the death of a Native American teenage girl. Critic Bob Mondello says the film paints a searing portrait of life on society's margins.
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Loss Piles Up Deep As Wyoming Snow Drifts In 'Wind River'

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Loss Piles Up Deep As Wyoming Snow Drifts In 'Wind River'

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Loss Piles Up Deep As Wyoming Snow Drifts In 'Wind River'

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Taylor Sheridan has been making a name for himself as a screenwriter who tells stories set in the American West. His drug cartel movie "Sicario" took place on the U.S.-Mexico border. His Oscar-nominated police procedural "Hell Or High Water" roamed all over Texas. And now he has both written and directed a film set on a Native American reservation. It's called "Wind River." Here's our critic Bob Mondello.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Wyoming - an icy, moonlit landscape - no one anywhere for miles except a teenage girl running in the snow, terrified and barefoot.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WIND RIVER")

KELSEY ASBILLE: (As Natalie, screaming).

MONDELLO: She falls, gets up, runs some more. The next scene is in bright daylight, a wolf stalking a flock of sheep. A shot rings out as it's felled by a marksman who, in his snow camouflage gear, blends into the landscape. Played by Jeremy Renner, this guy, Cory, also blends in socially, though there aren't many folks to blend in with. He has a Native American wife and son.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WIND RIVER")

JEREMY RENNER: (As Cory Lambert) I got to go to the res (ph) tomorrow, figure I take Casey by to see your folks.

JULIA JONES: (As Wilma) Something killed a yearling in the pasture behind their house.

RENNER: (As Cory Lambert) Yeah, that's why I'm going. Case (ph)...

TEO BRIONES: (As Casey) Dad?

RENNER: (As Cory Lambert) Come on, bud.

BRIONES: (As Casey) OK. I'm coming.

RENNER: (As Cory Lambert) Time to go. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, what's your BB gun pointed at right now?

MONDELLO: Pointing the gun away, a sheepish Casey drops his bag.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WIND RIVER")

RENNER: (As Cory Lambert) Come down here.

BRIONES: (As Casey) Sorry, Dad.

RENNER: (As Cory Lambert) What's the rule, bud - gun's always loaded, even if it ain't, right?

BRIONES: (As Casey) Yes.

RENNER: (As Cory Lambert) OK.

MONDELLO: Mentoring is something Corey does almost without thinking, passing on skills, insights, knowledge, a trait that will soon come in handy. While looking for the mountain lion that killed that yearling, he comes across the body of the teenage girl we saw earlier frozen in the snow.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WIND RIVER")

RENNER: (As Cory Lambert) I need emergency assistance.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) What's your location?

RENNER: (As Cory Lambert) The Wind River Indian Reservation.

MONDELLO: An FBI agent is flown in from Vegas dressed for cold in Vegas, notes the local sheriff.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WIND RIVER")

ELIZABETH OLSEN: (As Jane Banner) I'm Jane Banner, FBI.

GRAHAM GREENE: (As Ben) Welcome to Wyoming - all by yourself?

OLSEN: (As Jane Banner) It's just me.

GREENE: (As Ben) That's Cory Lambert. He's the one who found the body.

MONDELLO: Once they get to the site, Jane, played by Elizabeth Olsen, realizes she's out of her depth. She sees evidence of foul play. But Cory, a tracker, looks at the girl's footprints in the snow and sees a whole story unfolding - more mentoring.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WIND RIVER")

RENNER: (As Cory Lambert) She ran until she dropped here. See the pool of blood where her face hit the snow? Now, it gets to 20 below here at night, so if you fill your lungs up with that cold air and you're running, you could freeze them up. Your lungs fill up with blood. You start coughing it up. So wherever she came from...

MONDELLO: He looks around. There's nothing - nothing at all.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WIND RIVER")

RENNER: (As Cory Lambert) She ran all the way here. Her lungs burst here. She curled up in that tree line and drowned in her own blood.

OLSEN: (As Jane Banner) Well, how far do you think someone could run barefoot out here?

RENNER: (As Cory Lambert) Oh, I don't know. How do you case someone's will to live, especially in these conditions? But I knew that girl. She's a fighter. So no matter how far you think she ran, I can guarantee you she ran further.

MONDELLO: If that sounds like dialogue from a classic Western, poetic in its spareness, that's by design. Writer and director Taylor Sheridan makes contemporary films that, for all practical purposes, are westerns. And he deals with a host of current social issues in the process. His characters are pushed to extremes by circumstances - not just that girl who ran 6 miles barefoot in the snow but her parents, played by indigenous actors Gil Birmingham and Tantoo Cardinal - and even the bad guys.

Sheridan paints a searing picture of lives on society's margins, people who live with the silence and snow and not much else. He's made Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen icons while keeping them real, which allows the sense of loss in "Wind River" to pile up deep as snow drifts. I'm Bob Mondello.

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