UK Release Date: 22nd January 2018
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 murder on a Native American reservation, an FBI investigator teams up with a tracker to get to the bottom of the mystery.
The recent movies of Taylor Sheridan can be spoken about as part of a trilogy. Drug war thriller Sicario, recession-powered western Hell or High Water and chilly murder-mystery Wind River all fall into a category of movies about the edges of American society. Sheridan excels at amplifying the concerns of those fringes – Mexican border, sun-scorched small town Texas and Wyoming Native American reservation – to create compelling thrillers with a socially relevant edge. Wind River forms the final part of this trilogy and, now it has arrived on UK Blu-ray, it’s time to take a look back at this gripping tale.
The film hands the perennially underused Jeremy Renner a rare leading role in Wind River as a game hunter charged with tracking down and killing animals that threaten livestock on the eponymous Native American reservation. While on the lookout for a mountain lion, he discovers the frozen body of a Native American teenager, who has seemingly been raped and left out in the snow to die. Greenhorn FBI agent Jane (Elizabeth Olsen) is dispatched to the reservation to investigate the crime, despite her lack of knowledge of the difficult wilderness, so she convinces Renner’s tracker to tag along.
Sheridan makes his directorial debut with Wind River and the script is also one of his creations. He certainly lacks the outright flair that Denis Villeneuve and David Mackenzie brought to the two other movies in this trilogy, but that’s not to say that Wind River is a poorly directed film. It is a gripping and engrossing thriller that is written as if geared specifically towards a more minimalist, stand-offish brand of helmsman. Largely, it’s the chilly landscapes that do the talking, lending a megaphone to the sense of isolation and using the constantly swirling blizzard to communicate the sense of clues and leads being obscured as the investigation draws on.
Renner is flawless as a man who has clearly retreated wholly into his work following the death of his daughter, in circumstances he blames on himself and reveals in a breath-taking slice of exposition halfway through the story. Sheridan is unafraid of delivering his plot details in these talky slabs, with the final resolution of the mystery portrayed in a white-knuckle tense 10-minute flashback sequence. Renner gives the impression of a character who is worldly and intelligent, but almost afraid of opening himself up to the world, retreating into the job and the location he knows so well.
In what could easily have been a more obvious and unimpressive role, Elizabeth Olsen does stellar work as the inexperienced FBI investigator looking for a quick solve so that she can disappear back into the warmer corners of the country. Olsen’s thirst for justice, in whatever way it comes, is admirable and she proves to be a character capable of far more assertive actions than her initial facade of ‘entitled sun-dweller’ suggests. Her relationship with Renner, which is powered entirely by mutual respect and a need to get the crime resolved, is the centre of Wind River and her character learns the politics of the reservation at the same time as the watching audience.
So many of Sheridan’s films excel when characters simply sit and talk, between the violence, and that is certainly true of Wind River. It’s in brief, often almost whispered exchanges, that the emotional resonance seeps into the movie, with Hell or High Water holdover Gil Birmingham delivering plenty of this heft as the dead woman’s father. A final scene between him and Renner gives the film whatever sense of closure that it has and ensures that, appropriately enough, this odyssey of violence and murder ends on a quiet, subdued note with echoes of emotion ringing over the credits.
There are a handful of perfunctory deleted scenes, but also a trio of fun featurettes exploring Renner, Olsen and Sheridan’s involvement in the movie.
Pop or Poop?
It might not have the immediate cinematic flair of his previous two films as screenwriter, but Wind River is a great calling card for Taylor Sheridan as a director. He gifts Jeremy Renner his best big screen role in years in a genuinely gripping thriller that speaks to the isolation of life on a Native American reservation, while delivering a selection of believable, and quietly compelling, characters.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
Wind River is available on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK now, courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.