Jeremy Renner did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Cory Lambert in Wind River.
Wind River is an often problematic film in its approach towards its subject matter. This partially is in a more technical sense in writer Taylor Sheridan's inconsistent work while trying his own hand at directing one of his scripts where it strangely often plays closer to a TV pilot than a completely successful standalone feature film, but also more inherent towards the choices within the script not even considering the somewhat underwhelming plotting of the film. The faults within the script though are most readily evident in its attempt to adhere towards some greater importance within the story. Now aside from that it also includes the common trope, which has been questioned by many since at least Glory, which on a side note is actually a more easily justified example, where what should be a minority lead story follows white characters. This could have been avoided if the part I am going to address had been played by a Native American actor like Zahn McClarnon for example. The irony though is many of the flaws would have persisted within the film particularly since Jeremy Renner's performance as Cory Lambert is without a doubt the film's best quality.
What's so notable about Renner's work here is his completely atypical approach for a film that could have been made more of a revenge thriller of sorts, certainly with a different leading performance. Renner though from the outset very much emphasizes Cory as just this normal local guy from Wyoming working in and around the Native reservation by killing dangerous predators. Renner doesn't play him as this grizzled bent character, rather he takes a more naturalistic approach for a man who really is just living his life as the film opens. This isn't to say that Renner depicts the role with this carefree attitude, but what he does is find this certain tone that works so effectively for the role. Renner conveys just an inherent salt of the earth type of quality that is fitting to his character. He never over emphasizes this though in his approach. In that he does not make him this "man of few words" type, but rather just a working class hunter type whose more or less an average guy. Renner is able to exude this very specific vividness of the past, disregarding certain things we learn later about his character, but also in terms of a guy who has worked hard for many years in fairly rough conditions. Renner in regards to the man's setting and job doesn't show any exasperation towards that, but rather shows an authentic attitude of a man who lives a tougher life and is just fine living it as is.
We briefly see Cory going about his work and life with his divorced wife and son. Renner in these interactions is very good by only portraying this appreciation for both of them. There is not this overt somberness in this scene as Renner is able to realize the character's grief in a particularly remarkable way, although more on that in a moment. Renner in his family interactions though delivers that right familiarity with only that slight sense of distance with his wife. I love the expressive warmth he delivers in the scenes between Cory and his son. He has this one great moment where he reminds his son to be safe in his use of a gun. Renner plays this with an absolute concern for the moment which is fantastic moment because he reveals without a hint of paranoia. It is rather in the concern there is that brings this sense of just very firm care that he definitely wants his son to be okay without any over protectiveness to this. He obviously is perhaps more concerned than many a parent might be, which Renner alludes to the past that we learn later, yet he carefully shows that it is a greater concern from that past but not this damaging change. What Renner mostly shows though is just a still loving father and husband. As usual when Renner needs to deliver of charm he can, and this role in particular plays well to his unique strengths. In that Renner's charisma is very unassuming yet definitely there, which is perfect for the type of guy Cory is.
When the actual procedural begins Cory is the one who finds the body and along with the local police chief (Graham Greene) makes contact with the random FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) sent to investigate the crime. Renner is appropriately straight forward in the interactions. This isn't to say that he is ever underwhelming for a moment. Renner rather is so great in conveying the reactions natural to a guy who has had some hard times but hasn't been overwhelmed by them. When he sees the body and later describes it Renner delivers the line as a man who has in a way seen worse, however it isn't hollow. His delivery captures the right assumed emotion essentially in that he finds the right way to accentuate concern though in this very calm grounded way that Cory has basically found in his life. It's fantastic work through how lived in Renner finds this quality. For example when they later go about finding the murdered woman's brother, who is involved in some criminal activities, Cory delivers the news about her death to him after he obviously was unaware of her death. Renner puts forth the line very bluntly but not without emotion. It is rather outstanding how Renner here manages to infuse these most direct moments though still with honest concern, but within the rugged manner of this man. Renner just fully embodies the character so effectively throughout that everything just feels natural to who this man is.
Now perhaps where Renner derived his approach from is in a pivotal scene where Cory and the other investigators go to the murdered woman's father Martin (Gil Birmingham). Cory isn't there to interrogate the man but rather comfort it him as Cory also lost his daughter under similair circumstances. Renner is incredible in this scene as he physically and verbally exudes this philosophy as he speaks the words. Cory essentially tells Martin not to close himself from the past nor to forget it but rather embrace his grief in a specific way. In this Renner is able to find essentially how this man has come to terms with his own grief. As he speaks with this definite tenderness in his words as the love of a father reveals itself. His eyes reveal both this sense of loss of the daughter, but also a certain optimism within it as though is thinking of his best memories with her while giving Martin these words. It is not only a powerful stand alone scene but also wholly makes sense of this man who has found his way to cope with his daughter's loss. This is not to forget but to remember her best he can. We see this in Renner's work in that any moment he speaks about his loss, including when he describes what happened to her to Jane, Renner is very moving as he reveals the sorrow that lives in the man but in a way where he has found ease through the love he still holds for it.
When Martin essentially tasks Cory with killing the man responsible, which Cory basically already intended to do so, Renner grants the assurances not as this vicious hatred but rather this basic understanding as honoring one father's loss. Again Renner creates such a vivid realization of the man's personality and history that he makes his work all the more remarkable by so effectively portraying this different kind of lead for this type of film. He is able to maneuver between emotions because he shows it as just part of this straight forward guy Cory is. He has his slightly humorous and charming moments with Jane, and his concerned ones which Renner makes just the behavior you'd expect from him. What he also finds is this though is the drive to solve the case, which again he doesn't play as this obsession. Renner instead reveals as this serene type of passion that just is inherent to the man, as though it is a given that he will do as he has said. Renner makes this state of being a given as well as a completely earned facet of the character from how he has shown us the man right up until they solve crime. Although Cory kills most of the perpetrators as he would any out of control predator, he takes the lead man, who raped the woman, to die the same way she did. Before he does this though they have brief conversation where we perhaps are granted the most severe gap between acting quality of any single scene in 2017. This is where on one end we have one actor playing his part as a South Park caricature of a redneck "WHEEERRES MAAAAAA BOOTS", against Renner's amazing work. Renner doesn't let the abysmal quality of his co-star to interfere with him giving such a poignant piece work by delivering his "I'm going to kill you speech" with this elegance of a man who knows he's in the right and performing it as this duty. There is emotion within it yet Renner is stunning in the way he so internalizes it in the moment showing the man performing essentially this poetic execution so coldly towards the man, but with so much feeling within himself. Renner's final scene is great summation of his work as he goes to comfort Martin one last time with the minor closure of the death of the men responsible. Renner in the scene barely raises or breaks his voice, yet so calmly and still so directly revealing his warmth towards the man, love for his daughter, and his own grief with such subtle grace. Although one can argue over the choice in casting, Renner does his utmost to make up for that through this great performance.