Wind River Review

Taylor Sheridan makes his case for being one of the best working screenwriters today with “Wind River,” his third script to make it to the screen in three years and the first of the three that he’s directed.

Like “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water” before it, “Wind River” is a crime thriller that draws heavily upon setting and environmental factors – and the political, economic and social consequences of these factors – to tell a story. In particular, Sheridan is fascinated by situations where lawlessness thrives and what happens when the systems believed to protect us make us vulnerable to desperate, dangerously motivated and often morally corrupted people.

In “Wind River,” that context is the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. With complicated jurisdiction issues on top of its remote location, the effectiveness of law enforcement on Native American land has a limit, opening these regions up to violent crime that goes unpunished. Sheridan takes these circumstances and crafts such an effective genre story that its basis in truth is all the more appalling and soul-stirring.

A straight-forward murder mystery, “Wind River” depicts the unfolding of events when a wild animal tracker (Jeremy Renner) discovers a young woman dead in the snow. When the FBI sends a young agent (Elizabeth Olsen) in from Las Vegas to investigate who obviously has no knowledge of the region, he offers to help, even though the case tugs at an unsolved crime in his personal past.

Because no murder mystery could be straightforward in such a desolate and dangerous place, Sheridan equips this classic crime thriller story with numerous wrinkles and abrupt twists that directly result from the unusual circumstances of solving a crime on a Native American reservation filled with mountain lions in snowy Wyoming. But most of all, he fills out the script with character moments that speak to the emotional consequences of these unusual circumstances as well.

Renner’s character, Cory, for example, could have just been the cold and calculated tracker who propels the intrigue of the plot, but Cory was once married to a woman from the reservation and has deep personal ties to the people there. Olsen also could’ve been the classic naïve in-over-her-head officer, but much like the similar role Emily Blunt played in “Sicario,” she’s constantly reckoning her own understanding of the world with the headaches and horrors of this case. Both actors do some of their absolute best work in this film, and it’s definitely Renner’s finest performance.

Sheridan’s script deserves a lot of that credit. The way he sees the world and articulates the ideas he pulls from his stories through dialogue borders on poetry. A scene in which Cory gives the father of the murdered woman (Gil Birmingham) advice on how to grieve is deeply moving and will feel frighteningly truthful to anyone who has ever lost someone. He gives his characters such powerful words to process the themes of the film that every key emotional scene feels like a discovery of some new rich meaning and perspective on life. At any moment his writing could become too much, and some might argue it does, but the rest of the film holds fast behind it.

Although his greenness hardly impacts the film, Sheridan has room to grow as a director. The story had the potential to feel even moodier and more atmospheric and connect the viewer even deeper into the narrative through visuals, and Sheridan just never takes that extra step visually. Someone like “Sicario” director Denis Villeneuve would’ve absolutely nailed it; Sheridan is just a little too straightforward – he buries us up to our waists in snow and with a little more experience or the right director, we might have gone up to our necks. Still, the difference is negligible; maybe just between being a great film and being a Best Picture frontrunner.

Above all else, “Wind River” has the trappings of an important film given its subject matter and the issues it raises. It’s a movie that should be seen and talked about, especially because so many of the people it depicts are not.


4.5/5 Stars


Wind River
Written and Directed by Taylor Sheridan
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Graham Greene, Kelsey Asbille, Gil Birmingham


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