Following up on his highly acclaimed screenwriting work on Sicario and Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan is now moving up to directing duties too. Wind River is a promising piece of work, and certainly fits thematically and visually with the neo-western aesthetic of his lauded previous work. A simple thriller, but an ambitious one, it reaches for Thomas Harris, Cormac McCarthy, and the Coens, but Sheridan isn’t quite there yet.
During a brutal Wyoming winter, Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), an agent with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, discovers the dead body of a teenage girl on the Wind River Indian reservation. The girl, Natalie (Kelsey Chow) had been raped, beaten, and left to die in the frozen wilderness. The FBI send rookie agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) to investigate. When the coroner rules that Natalie’s cause of death was exposure rather than murder, Banner is unable to call in additional back up from the feds. So she and Lambert must find the killer on their own.
As with his previous work, Sheridan’s interests lie with the hardscrabble lives of people on the fringes of contemporary America. Those dangerous frontiers where life is a daily struggle to survive. If it ain’t the heat or the cold trying to kill ya, it’s some sumbitch with a gun. Renner’s Lambert is a perfect addition to Sheridan’s cinematic universe. Delivering a complex and convincing performance as a grief stricken father himself, he sees the hunt for Natalie’s killer as a chance to see the justice he never got.
The film moves at a surprisingly lethargic pace, which isn’t always a bad thing, but then again neither is a bit of narrative momentum. Pacing issues aside, the strong characters, terrific performances, and the startling snow-white visuals accompanying such powerful and harrowing material means that Wind River is a film that is never dull to watch.
It’s a very admirable effort, and bodes well for Sheridan’s future work behind the camera, though the film is occasionally hamstrung by his own heavy handedness. The overuse of wolf symbolism is a tad clumsy, and a final swerve into socio-political injustice doesn’t really fit with the bleak, existential thriller we’ve just been watching.
A defter touch from a more experienced director could have elevated this material into something quite special. Instead we’ll have to settle for it just being rather bloody good.
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Gil Birmingham, Jon Bernthal, Kelsey Chow Director: Taylor Sheridan Writer: Taylor Sheridan Released By: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment Certificate: 15 Duration: 111 mins Release Date: 22nd January 2018