Jeremy Renner’s Best Performance Isn’t as an Avenger


The Big Picture

  • Renner’s performance in the indie film
    Wind River
    is his best to date, showcasing his emotional depth and nuance as he portrays a haunted wildlife officer in search of justice.
  • In
    Wind River
    , Renner’s character, Cory Lambert, handles his grief and trauma with stoicism, revealing subtle emotions that resonate with the audience.
  • Renner’s ability to balance action and emotion in
    Wind River
    surpasses his previous roles, signaling a new chapter in his career that deserves recognition.

When someone brings up Jeremy Renner in conversation, it’s typically because they’re referring to his roles in Marvel movies and shows such as The Avengers or Hawkeye. Although portraying the bow-and-arrow-toting hero is what he’s known for, it is far from his best performance. Even his breakout role in The Hurt Locker and more recent TV role in Mayor of Kingstown fall short of his powerhouse performance in the 2017 indie Wind River.

Renner’s handle on emotional content isn’t surprising, as the actor is known to have a genuinely kind personality off-screen. His boots-on-the-ground approach to charitable efforts was showcased in the four-part series Disney+, titled Rennervations, in which the actor recruits familiar faces to help him renovate decommissioned vehicles into ones with real charitable purposes for communities in need. However, long before he was making a difference on his reality show, he was doing so by stopping outlaws in the harsh wilderness of Wyoming.

Wind River

A wildlife officer, who is haunted by a tragedy that happened because of him, teams up with an FBI agent in solving a murder of a young woman on a Wyoming Native American reservation and hopes to get redemption from his past regrets.

Release Date
August 18, 2017

What Is ‘Wind River’ About?

Wind River is a neo-Western crime drama written and directed by Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan. It’s set on a Native American reservation in Wyoming where Jeremy Renner plays Cory Lambert, a wildlife officer who finds the body of a friend’s daughter, Natalie, in a snow-covered field. She had been the victim of a brutal rape and died as a result of her lungs freezing during her escape from the assailant. Lambert then teams up with FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) to track down the perpetrator and bring justice to a place where it often isn’t found.

Jeremy Renner Brings an Emotional Honesty to ‘Wind River’

Jeremy Renner as Cory Lambert staring off into the snow in Wind River
Image via Lionsgate

Jeremy Renner clearly has a penchant for high-intensity action roles and that isn’t necessarily different with Wind River, but the level of depth in his character is something we don’t often get a chance to see. The officer Renner is playing is still harboring an emotional scar from losing his own daughter in a similar way to the current case. He is also divorced and has to share time with his son between him and his ex-wife. Rather than play the role of someone obsessed with revenge or angrily triggered by the events that unfold, Renner dials it back and is able to show that Cory Lambert is keeping his emotions just barely at bay. This shows the subtlety of Renner’s performance. Lambert’s loneliness and struggle are felt in every frame of the non-action scenes he’s in, yet he maintains his stoicism throughout the film. It creates an emotional honesty that is surrounded by a gruff and calculated exterior.

An example of this silent bravado that Renner embodies in Wind River is during a scene where Lambert is talking with Jane Banner in his home. Lambert notices that Banner is eyeing a photograph of his daughter. Whether it’s the darting eyes or the perfect delivery of heartbreaking parental advice — “You can’t even blink, not once” — when he recounts the disappearance and murder of his own daughter, the audience is in the room with him. The pitch in Lambert’s words fluctuates with a subtlety of emotion that makes viewers understand the level of pain that this kind of violent crime brings upon the victims and their families.

Renner’s Cory Lambert Is a Character We Can Empathize With

The climax of Wind River shows Renner’s ability to portray Lambert swallowing his emotions in order to do what needs to be done, all while fully understanding the gravity of a tough situation. After a shootout with the perpetrator and his fellow private security contractors, Lambert tends to a wounded Banner’s side, and Banner gives Lambert her blessing in tracking down and taking the murderer’s life. Lambert turns his head downward and his eyes follow. A brief, slow scene allows the audience to see that Lambert isn’t taking joy in apprehending and killing the man, but rather taking a moment to grasp what he’s about to do. Sharp writing helps here, but Renner elevates Lambert to a man who understands what frontier justice means not only for him, but for the family of the victim who all but gave up on seeing true justice done.



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Towards the end of the film, Renner’s character stops by to tell Natalie’s father that he has killed her attacker. In the silence of Natalie’s bedroom, Lambert pulls a blanket over her sleeping mother. He walks over to view a few photographs of her and spies one of her and his own daughter together. He removes his hat as his eyes well up, and he takes a deep breath. Another powerfully written scene is made more impactful by what Renner is able to do with it.

There are many other examples from Wind River that can be used to illustrate the captivating performance by Jeremy Renner. However, the best evidence would be watching the movie for yourself. Others might argue that other films such as The Hurt Locker or The Town best showcase Renner’s talents, but the reality is, in terms of balancing emotion and action, they pale in comparison. As entertaining as his role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is, it wasn’t until Wind River that the excitement of seeing Jeremy Renner in new and different roles achieved its fever pitch. Hopefully, that fever will be broken in the near future with the actor’s upcoming projects, like the much anticipated third season of Mayor of Kingstown.

Wind River is available to watch on Freevee in the U.S.



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