Director: Taylor Sheridan Starring: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Teo Briones, Graham Greene, and Gil Birmingham Synopsis: An FBI agent teams with a town's veteran game tracker to investigate a murder that occurred on a Native American reservation. Rated: R Year: 2017
It’s late night. A young Native American woman bolts barefoot across the vast, unforgiving Wyoming tundra. She collapses into the frigid snow. Warm blood pools from her mouth onto the icy slush. She stumbles back to her feet before buckling one last time just a few yards away.
Within the first few minutes of Wind River, long-time screenwriter and first-time director Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell or High Water) paints a powerful picture. It’s one of a merciless countryside where only grief and loneliness thrive; one of life and death on the Wind River Indian Reservation.
Sheridan channels and maintains this chilling ambience throughout the film. As I shivered in my seat, I couldn’t help but feel the influences of other great murder mysteries like Zodiac or The Silence of the Lambs.
Their influences don’t stop there, either. Wind River also borrows familiar story tropes. Most noticeable here is the through line involving a young, ambitious crime fighter who enlists the aid of a grizzled expert (in some field) to help solve a gruesome murder.
In this case, our crime fighter is Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen). She’s a Vegas-based FBI agent and though she’s still wet behind the ears, she’s the closest prospect to the reservation. It’s not long after Agent Banner’s arrival that she pairs herself off with Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a local hunter who knows the surrounding land “like it’s his job” and shares an intimate relationship with the natives.
Olsen and Renner displayed great chemistry in both Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War so it’s no surprise that the two work well together here. That said, Wind River is Jeremy Renner’s movie. Twice the guy’s been nominated for an Oscar and he could very well be looking down the barrel of a third nod for his work as what equates to a contemporary take on Clint Eastwood’s performance in Unforgiven.
Wind River also boasts a strong supporting cast with honorable mentions going to Graham Greene and Gil Birmingham. Greene breezily manages double duty as both the reservation’s world-weary Chief of Police (who only has six officers to cover a landmass equal to the size of Rhode Island) and a majority of the film’s comic relief. Birmingham, on the other hand, gives a heart-wrenching performance as the young victim’s father whose family seems to be coming undone at the seams.
As he proved with Sicario and Hell or High Water, Sheridan understands people and has a talent for transcribing natural speech onto the big screen. This helps him craft rich, human characters that are easy to invest in and root for, even (or perhaps especially) when they inevitably do wind up taking the law into their own hands.
Those scenes are cathartic to say the least, but they also speak to the deeper thematic context of Sheridan’s unofficial frontier trilogy. Our government marginalizes certain groups of people but how does that marginalization affect the people within those groups and at what points does the law start and stop working for and against them?
What did you all think of Wind River? Are you a fan of Sicario and/or Hell or High Water? Let us know what you think of Taylor Sheridan as a rising talent in the comments section!