UK Release Date: 8th September 2017
Runtime: 107 minutes
Director: Taylor Sheridan
Writer: Taylor Sheridan
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Graham Greene, Kelsey Chow, Gil Birmingham, Jon Bernthal
Synopsis: After a brutal sexually motivated murder on a Native American reservation, an FBI investigator teams up with a Fish and Wildlife Service agent to get to the bottom of the mystery.
In recent years, Taylor Sheridan has marked himself out as a screenwriter who knows exactly how to shine a light on the forgotten corners of modern America. Sicario took us right into the heart of the drug war and Hell or High Water saw the financial crisis ravage a remote corner of Texas. His latest effort, Wind River, is the third installment of Sheridan’s loose ‘Frontier Trilogy’ and this time he’s on directing duties as well. It’s a little more stripped down than the two previous films, but it’s another rich story anchored by a standout performance from one of Hollywood’s most under-utilised leading men – Jeremy Renner.
Fish and Wildlife Service Agent Cory (Renner) spends a lot of his time on the eponymous Wyoming reservation, where he is friendly with the locals as his wife is of Native American descent. One afternoon, he discovers the frozen body of Natalie (Kelsey Chow), who has been raped and murdered. Greenhorn FBI agent Jane (Elizabeth Olsen) is assigned the case and, after a visit to Natalie’s grieving father Martin (Gil Birmingham) yields little success, she enlists Cory and reservation cop Ben (Graham Greene) to help her solve the murder with the benefit of their local knowledge.
Given the talent of the previous directors who have helmed Sheridan’s work, it was always going to be interesting to see if him himself could bring a similar amount of flair behind the camera. As if acknowledging that he isn’t as accomplished behind the camera as Denis Villeneuve or David Mackenzie, Sheridan brings Wind River to life as a more subdued, contemplative film that strips down its visual style to allow the characters and the richness of the script to rise to the surface. Sheridan knows his strength is in his script and so that’s where Wind River gets the chance to shine.
Wind River weaves a murder mystery that exists to provide a backdrop for a deep and complex exploration of character. Crucially, those characters include the landscape itself, which is as much a living, breathing figure in the story as Jeremy Renner or Elizabeth Olsen. The snow-covered, oppressively cold environment is a stark contrast to the sun-baked plains of Hell or High Water and the grubby underworld of Sicario. The chilly world feels pregnant with secrets, so is the perfect vessel for the film’s big reveal, which unfolds in an unbearably tense flashback laced with shocking violence.
Given its stripped-back approach to direction, it’s important for Wind River to feature strong central performances. Thankfully, this is a film that gives Jeremy Renner his best role in years – as a taciturn man driven to act as a result of deep-seated issues in his past. Elizabeth Olsen gets less to do, but is admirably solid, while Gil Birmingham, last seen being sniped at by Jeff Bridges in Hell or High Water, impresses in a selection of all-too-brief moments that bristle with the understated emotion that provides the film with its surprising strength and resonance.
Compared to the intensity of his previous two films, Wind River feels like a slightly lesser Sheridan movie. It does, however, benefit from yet another stellar script and a selection of very impressive performances. The chilly feel creates tension throughout and Sheridan is able to tease out a real sense of isolation, even if it does lack some of the thematic riches of his previous writing work.
Pop or Poop?
Taylor Sheridan has conclusively proved he is an able and interesting director as well as a screenwriter with Wind River. It’s a compelling, icy murder mystery set in one of the forgotten communities Sheridan so enjoys depicting on the big screen.
The whole thing is a little bit more restrained than the usual Sheridan thriller and it lacks the cinematic pizazz of Sicario or Hell or High Water. It is, however, harsh and gripping in all of the best ways.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.