Wind River is a murder mystery and a social commentary that shows how multiple fates collide to bring out the truth, which, even at the cost of justice, remains unheard.
It is the story of Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), an expert tracker for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), an FBI agent. They work together to solve the murder of two people whose bodies are found in the snow at the Wind River Indian Reservation located in Wyoming.
During a winter, Cory Lambert discovers the body of Natalie Hanson, an 18-year-old, frozen in the snow with feet bare and blood on forehead and groin. FBI Agent Jane Banner arrives to investigate what seems to be a homicide. The following day, Natalie’s father, Martin, a long-time friend of Lambert, tells him that Natalie had a boyfriend whom he didn’t know anything about. Natalie’s autopsy reveals death from pulmonary hemorrhage caused by inhaling sub-zero air. Since the cause of death isn’t homicide, agent Jane cannot get additional help from the FBI since it has reserved jurisdiction over murder cases. On the other hand, Lambert finds out that Natalie’s boyfriend was Matt Rayburn, who works security at an oil drilling site close by. The following day, Lambert and Banner discover the body of Matt Rayburn naked and mutilated by the wildlife.
After this incident, Lambert tells Banner about his daughter, who died 3 years ago. Her body, too, was found in the snow following a party at their house. Lambert and his wife knew nothing about the mysterious murder as they were away from home, and not a single person was charged for the crime. Later on, Banner and 3 local officers arrive at the oil drilling site to investigate. Here they come across the oil company’s security guards and their head supervisor. Their behavior seems to show that they know about what’s going on but are hiding something. Banner knocks on the trailer where Matt used to stay.
A flashback shows Matt and Natalie together in bed talking when Matt’s drunken friends barge in. One of them, Pete, tries to taunt the couple and assault Natalie sexually. This provokes Matt to hit Pete. The other guys retaliated and beat Matt down. Pete rapes Natalie. Matt tries to fight back, and this gives Natalie the chance to escape. Meanwhile, the drunken fellows bludgeon Matt to death.
Coming back to the present, a warning from Lambert via radio, who traces tracks from Matt’s corpse to the oil drill camp, to the local Chief Officer, comes too late as Pete fires a shotgun from inside the trailer and hits Banner. She has her vest on, so she survives. A gunfight follows with only Banner as the survivor, thanks to Lambert’s sniper skills. Pete, wounded, manages to run away. But not that far as Lambert catches him, knocks him down, and takes him to Gannett Peak’s foot. He makes Pete confess what he and his friends did to Natalie and Matt.
Lambert doesn’t kill him but gives him the same chance that Natalie had. She ran 6 miles barefoot in her state on the snow before death got the better of her. Pete starts to run but dies before he can cover even 600 feet. The cause of death, as we can easily see, is pulmonary hemorrhage.
After that, we see Banner as she wakes up in a hospital. Lambert is there and praises her toughness. Lambert returns to Martin, Natalie’s father, and tells him that the person responsible for her death went out “with a whimper.” Both share the grief of the loss of their daughters. The movie ends with a title card that tells that the statistics of missing persons of every other demographic group are maintained except for Native American women. A number of the missing remains unknown to this day.
‘Wind River’ Ending Explained
While it may seem that Wind River portrays revenge, consider how Natalie’s father Martin wanted Lambert to kill the person responsible. However, he didn’t say it but instead expressed it, accompanied by Lambert’s own rage and pain resulting from his daughter’s death. In the same manner, the movie inclines towards accepting reality. “You can’t steer from the pain. If you do…you’ll rob yourself of every memory of her…just take the pain…it’s the only way you’ll keep her with you.”
This scene, accompanied by the one where Lambert lets Pete loose and tells him to run, seems to echo the last scene from The Revenant. Leonardo Di Caprio’s character Hugh Glass says, “Revenge is in God’s hands…not mine,” and pushes Tom Fitzgerald, AKA Tom Hardy, into the river where a band of the Arikara takes him. The Arikara were searching for Fitzgerald, but it was fate, or one may say Nature, who brought them to him and him to them. In Wind River, just as Nature took Natalie, Lambert lets Nature take its course with Pete.
It was fate that Martin didn’t know about his daughter’s boyfriend. It was fate that the drunken fellows came in when Natalie and Matt were together. It was fate that Lambert was unaware of the party at his house when his daughter went missing. And it was fate again that brought Lambert in this case 3 years later, probably to give him another chance at saving a girl, i.e., Jane. And in return, Lambert, who has accepted his reality, lets fate take its path.
In Wind River, Nature plays the role of Fate. Or maybe Fate lets Nature play its part. But while Nature doesn’t forgive, Fate seems to jot down our actions, and no matter how much we try to protect ourselves, it arrives at our doorstep unheard, like a mountain lion walking in the snow.
Wind River is a 2017 Crime Thriller film written and directed by Taylor Sheridan.