Wind River is one of the year’s best films and quickly shoots writer Taylor Sheridan to the top of the class. Sheridan previously wrote Sicario and Hell or High Water and here he directs for the first time, finding a unique and strong voice for American cinema.
The title refers to an Indian Reservation where a murdered girl is discovered by a wildlife officer, played by Jeremy Renner. He calls in the Feds in the form of F.B.I. officer Jane Banner, played by Elizabeth Olsen. She doesn’t exactly blend well with Reservation law enforcement, so she requests Renner’s help to snoop around town for clues to what happened to the corpse. Also, Renner has a connection to the deceased, and the plot thickens from there.
Taylor Sheridan has a knack for making his dialogue poetic (a testament to great writing), yet it seems very natural coming from the mouths of his actors (a testament to great directing). The words say a lot, characters pontificate and make great statements about large topics, yet never seem preachy or pretentious. It’s a delicate balance Sheridan has mastered in his last three scripts. This is just the type of role that suits Renner’s strength as the strong, stoic type, holding a heavy heart’s worth of pain inside. It’s one of his best performances. Olsen gets good mileage out of her fish-out-of-water investigator, especially bouncing dialogue off Graham Greene’s deadpan sheriff. It’s hard for her to earn respect amongst the police and the parents of the victim.
But shit gets REAL when they dig up their first people to question, a pair of meth-head brothers and the sibling of the deceased girl. These guys live in squalor in a bleak house, seemingly by choice, as if the world offered them nothing and they react by getting high in the worst way possible – out of boredom. My quick-trigger reaction to people who are bored is anger. Who are these people? I can’t get enough accomplished day-to-day and there are people who are bored? But Wind River does a good job of building a world in the Reservation that’s not unlike the dusty towns of Hell or High Water – one where hope has been firmly replaced by despair and loneliness and ambition left town years ago. Even more than the characters in Hell or High Water, who were pushed to desperate acts by the downturn of the recent American economy, these characters are still in the throws of years of mistreatment by the American government and face a future of few options. After all, the definition of “reservation” is “doubt”.
Eventually, the clues lead Renner and Olsen to some ugly and hyper-violent situations and Olsen’s fish-out-of-water situation becomes increasingly dangerous. The second half of this movie is soaked in tension as we see men reverting to their primal roots when isolated in an unforgiving landscape for long periods of time.
The production design here is impeccable, as the lived-in locations leave no doubt as to the history embedded in them and DP Ben Richardson captures it all magnificently in what had to be a bitterly cold shoot (the authenticity of a dreary Wyoming winter is on grand display).
Research shows that Sicario, Hell or High Water and Wind River complete a trilogy Taylor Sheridan planned to tell gritty stories from the new American west. I’m asking Sheridan not to stop at three films. His voice is a unique and ambitious one in a sea of films created by bumbling committee. Keep going.
Directed by: Taylor Sheridan
Release Date: August 4, 2017
Run Time: 107 Minutes
Distributor: The Weinstein Company