Release date: 8th September 2017/Watch the trailer here
The directorial debut from Taylor Sheridan, writer of Sicario and Hell or High Water, Wind River is set in the wilderness of the Wind River Indian Reservation during the unforgiving Wyoming winter. Sharing much in common with Sheridan’s other films (he considers them to be his ‘frontier trilogy’, connected thematically rather than by plot), Wind River is something of a modern Western, following local game tracker Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) after he discovers the body of a teenage girl in the snow. Rookie FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is called in from Las Vegas to assist, and although she quickly finds herself unprepared for the freezing cold and isolation of Wind River, her tenacity and passion drives her to solve the case.
Much like Sicario and Hell or High Water before it, the heart and soul of Wind River lies in its screenplay. Sheridan has a gift for capturing a sense of authenticity in locations that are rarely explored on screen. From the supporting characters to the actual setting – as much its own character as anyone else in the film – everything about Wind River feels genuine and gritty. This touch of realism can be seen in the crime that the movie is built around: veering away from serial killers and grisly murders and instead focusing on the very real plight of Native American women on reservations, for whom there are no statistics to be found on just how many are missing. Wind River also touches on themes of grief, depression, drug addiction and sexual assault – in many ways, it’s a film that’s every bit as bleak as the desolate landscape it takes place in, beautiful though the cinematography may be.
So Wind River may not be an easy watch, but it is an important one, with two brilliant performances at the centre of it. Renner may be the least charismatic person on screen in a Marvel movie, but he comes alive when he is given the chance to play characters that feel a little more human – much like in Arrival, his character here is believable and grounded; the emotional core of the film. Olsen, too, has found the perfect role for her – the rookie agent who cares far more about the fate of an innocent young woman than the opinions of the men that surround her and make no effort to hide their initial doubts regarding her capability.
There are still a few faults that Sheridan will undoubtedly overcome in his future films, both as a screenwriter and a director, but there’s no denying his talent. There’s the occasional character who is developed in the first act only to be forgotten about by the second, or a seemingly important interaction that ends up with no value to the overall plot, but these are minor flaws in an otherwise excellent screenplay. As far as directorial debuts go, they don’t get much better than this: Sheridan masterfully creates tension during a stand-off at gunpoint, before proving himself as a fine director of action, too, in the shoot-out that follows.
On the surface, Wind River is a simple mystery, by-the-numbers for the most part but gripping nonetheless. Yet for all its stark simplicity, it’s what lies beneath that’s most impressive: the very human characters and their very human problems, and these are the things that promise to stay with you long after the culprit has been discovered and the crime has been solved.