‘Wind River’: the sordid true crimes that inspired Taylor Sheridan’s harsh sub-zero thriller with Elizabeth Olsen

The writer of ‘Sicario’ and ‘Comanchería’ (Hell or High Water, 2017), Taylor Sheridanfirst became a director with ‘Wind River,’ an acclaimed crime thriller set on a Native American reservation that, prior to his ‘Yellostone,’ would form the third installment of his spiritual trilogy of modern westernsthis third recalling works by Corbucci and other snowy variations of the genre.

The film is about a group of people trying to uphold the rule of law in impossible circumstances, mixing its traditional elegiac tone marked with bursts of high tension and sudden, shocking violence culminating in a memorable shootout. Set in frozen Wyoming, its location is a real-life Indian reservation, where harsh conditions are often the least of problems. When a woman is found frozen to death, a professional tracker with a personal vendetta and an out-of-state FBI agent team up to try to solve the case.

A true crime of countless dimensions

Jeremy Renner plays Cory Lambert, a US Fish and Wildlife Service agent tasked with patrolling the snowy deserts of Wyoming in winter. While searching for a predatory mountain lion, he comes across the body of a young (Kelsey Asbille) frozen in the snow. She had been sexually assaulted before fleeing barefoot into the night, until her lungs literally burst as she breathed in the sub-zero air. Her name is Natalie and she was the daughter of Martin (gil birmingham), a close friend of Cory’s.

Cory also lost her daughter when, after an impromptu party got out of control, the girl also died alone in the snow under unresolved circumstances. His interest now in finding out what happened to Natalie is personal.. Because the new murder took place on the reservation, jurisdictional issues mean that the investigation falls on a tribal policeman named Ben (Graham Greene); while an FBI agent named Jane Banner, played by elizabeth olsen will team up with Cory to solve the case.

Wind River HD

Sheridan came into contact with the Native American world when he left the Texan ranch where he grew up. to pursue acting in Los Angeles, and looking for what to do with his life he visited a cabin with a Native American friend, and fell in love with the Lakota belief in the Great Spirit, an abstract higher power that hovers over all, but he was concerned that what he had experienced was a Native American cultural concoction designed to appeal to gullible Californians. Out of a job and living in a secondhand Jeep, she decided she had to find out more.

The unseen problems in the federal reserves

He traveled to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. There he befriended some of the reservation’s Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone population and witnessed firsthand the challenges facing a community relegated to a small piece of land. In the words of the director himself Guardian:

“A lot of people come to Native Americans wanting something from their world. The big joke about reservations is that the white guy shows up and says, ‘I’m Native American, my grandmother is Cherokee.’ So if you show up on the reservation, they’ll ask you : ‘Is your grandmother a Cherokee?’ so I’ve become a dilettante in your world and now I’m going to take your culture’”

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The director saw that poverty, unemployment and the crime rate were very high and the police or the FBI were not legally able to make arrests on the reservation itself while communities outside of it show hostility, even with businesses that refuse to serve Native Americans, and this situation goes unnoticed in the United States , hence they told him if he could tell about the situation in any of his works.

To do this, he chose to talk about the real reservation of Wind River, where life expectancy is 49 years and unemployment rates are over 80 percent, but what is really chilling is the total lack of data on missing Native American women. As the end titles say:

“While missing person statistics are compiled for all other demographic groups, none exist for Native American women.”


No one knows exactly how many women go missing on the reservation each year, but there are some disturbing facts available for deliberation, as according to an article in the New York Times, American Indian women are raped and sexually assaulted at a rate four times higher than the US averageto which is added that they are 10 times more likely to be murdered than other Americans.

A legal loophole that functions as a lethal trap

A fact that made a big impact on Olsen that when he entered the production he explored the subject to learn, as he comments to bustlewhat:

“A white man can walk into a reservation, commit a crime and rape a woman, but he can only be caught on the reservation by the reservation police. If he’s caught outside, unless it’s a felony, there’s no nothing you can do about it. The fact that there are so few resources allocated to even figuring out why it’s been such a big deal, it’s very strange and confusing. It’s constant disrespect.”

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Sheridan explained this injustice in an interview with Newsweek

“The sexual assault of a native woman by a non-native could not be prosecuted because it was a state crime on federal land. At the same time, if you were a native accused of assaulting a non-native, you could be prosecuted twice, once by the federal government and once by tribal police. It was a double standard of medieval proportions.”


So that ‘Wind River’ is not inspired by a specific crime, but by a distressing and depressing reality that affects an entire population that the police seem to have abandoned. While the film explores these themes under the guise of a crime thriller, it serves a very valuable informational role for bookings, and for example, because of his experience on this film, Olsen joined a non-profit organization, on Treatment of Violations, in order to provide tangible support to those affected.

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‘Wind River’: the sordid true crimes that inspired Taylor Sheridan’s harsh sub-zero thriller with Elizabeth Olsen