Taylor Sheridan is an actor, writer, producer and director who has only written three films and directed two. His first film was called Vile and it was a low budget horror film from 2011 that virtually no one has seen. Most of his career thus far has been in front of the camera presumably to facilitate his real love of cinema which is writing and directing. He has a style of writing that seems to take a while to cultivate complex characters and deliberately so. This takes time but the payoff is richly developed and eccentric characters that are interesting and seemingly real. The three films he has written have all been terrific. Nominated last year for an Oscar for Hell or High Water and receiving accolades for Sicario, Wind River is his latest film and it is every bit as impressive as Hell or High Water and Sicario.
“Inspired by true events”, Wind River takes place on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. A hunter and tracker for the Forest and Wildlife services, Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) stumbles upon the frozen body of a local Arapaho girl. After calling it in, the FBI sends a new agent, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) to assess the situation. She is basically there to classify it as a homicide before they send in the investigative team to catch the killer or killers. When the case takes some turns, both Lambert and Banner are knee deep into the investigation. But Jane Banner is a bit too new as an agent to realize just how much danger is there and Lambert is all too familiar with the situation. Don’t get me wrong, Jane is a very smart and capable agent, but she has never seen a situation like this before.
There is a lot to Wind River I will not disclose because to do so would be to ruin it. Suffice to say, Lambert is a grieving man and as a result, his chosen profession suits him. He is a man who desires solitude unless it is taking care of his son and looking after his ex-wife. Lambert is a good man; strong, resourceful but still human. Both Renner and Olsen are given top billing but make no mistake about it, this is Jeremy Renner’s film and he has never given a better performance. Olsen is quite good, too but this is Renner’s film to shine and shine he does. His performance is worthy of Oscar contention.
Taylor Sheridan’s script is intelligent, thoughtful and emotionally deep. Interwoven between the mystery and the action is a heartbreaking film about loss, grief and how it affects us over the years. “I’d like to tell you it gets easier. But it doesn’t,” Lambert tells another grieving father. Lambert is an iron-willed soul but his character is given layers and when he has a sad moment of reflection, you can see he harbors a wounded soul. Credit goes to writer and director Sheridan for taking the time to develop these characters and make them into real people, so to speak. Olsen is also quite effective as Banner. She has no idea what she is in for when she arrives but she quickly finds out and Olsen’s performance is very strong, indeed.
Sheridan is able to balance the human drama of Wind River while keeping the mystery interesting and he even manages to give Wind River a sense of film noir, of sorts. This film slightly reminded of the 1992 film Thunderheart with Val Kilmer and Sam Shepard, also a terrific film about the Wounded Knee Incident of 1973. Wind River’s ending is not quite so politically complicated as Thunderheart’s but it is every bit as satisfying and it will have you on the edge of your seat. The supporting cast of Wind River adds a level of authenticity led by Graham Greene as the local Reservation police chief, Tantoo Cardinal (who played Greene’s wife in Kevin Costner’s epic Dances With Wolves) and Apesanahkwat as Lambert’s friend and father of the slain girl. He is a proud but broken man who has seen his family ripped apart by drugs, alcohol and now, he has lost his daughter who was one of the very few pure things he had left in his life.
Wind River is a beautifully shot film by Ben Richardson who makes good use of the mountainous locales and snow. You can almost feel the ice and the bone chilling cold and Gary Roach’s editing is spot on. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s score has Native American flavor but they have also kept their score accessible to the entire audience which enhances what is happening on screen. Wind River is not a particularly heavy, beat-you-over-the-head film about the plight of the Native Americans. It is a respectful, poignant, sad and sometimes exciting film about real people stuck in a horrible situation. Wind River is a classy, elegant, immensely rich and mysterious film and easily one of the year’s best films.
Wind River – **** 3/4 out of 5
Wind River – Rated R for strong language, nudity, strong sexual situations and graphic violence.
Wind River – Run Time 107 minutes
Wind River is now playing in theaters. Check your local listings for times and locations nearest you.