Jacob Richardson | 03/10/2017
A blistering portrayal of the cyclical nature of violence, the raw power of the American frontier, and the difference between justice and law.
Wind River follows veteran tracker, hunter and Fish and Wildlife Service ranger Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), who stumbles upon a dead body 6 miles from the nearest residence in the middle of a snowstorm. While it seems obvious that she has been murdered, her cause of death means that rookie FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) can’t call in the homicide team for backup. Thus begins the unlikely team up of Jane, Cory and police chief Ben (Graham Greene), as they track the mysterious killer.
This is the first film in a trilogy of movies written by Taylor Sheridan, after Sicario and Hell or High Water, to be directed by the writer himself. And while it doesn’t have the tremendous cinematography of Sicario, or the directorial tension of Hell or High Water, it is still an absolutely stunning, incredibly well acted and taut picture.
Jeremy Renner is back on form in this thriller, as the impassive hunter. Often barely visible, dressed in all white against a backdrop of frozen tundra, his incredible acting talent is on show here. It’s a refreshing change, given some recent poor vehicles for his ability. Elisabeth Olsen is also perfectly cast, with the resolve and determination of her inexperienced, Vegas-stationed FBI agent in every glint of her eyes after a disparaging comment from one of the locals. Together, they bring vibrant life to this inhospitable frontier, and it’s a joy to watch them on screen together.
Cinematographer Ben Richardson gives the imposing landscape it’s due, using the lens to truly convey the impressive, daunting expanse of snow that so dominates this film. Sheridan, to his credit, paces the investigative film incredibly well, and Wind River keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. It doesn’t have quite the experienced mastery of tension as Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario (or, for that matter, the cinematographical skills of Deakins), but it certainly is an impressive start to Sheridan’s directing career.
At the end of the day, however, the film lives or dies by it’s script, and it’s script is one of true beauty. Sheridan is one of the best writers in the game today, and his tendency to assume audience intellect is on full display here, with every line of dialogue more impressively structured, immersive, and explanatory than the entire script to 2017’s Flatliners. It doesn’t hurt that every performer in the piece relishes the delivery of their well-rounded dialogue, giving it the gravitas it needs to draw the audience in. Even lines that could otherwise be cliche, like Cory’s statement that “I’m a hunter, that’s what I’ll do” are given greater meaning with subtle performances from the likes of Renner. Watching a dialogue heavy scene between any two characters in the film is like watching a script-writing masterclass, as the audience’s ability to fill in the blanks and keep up with what is left unsaid perfectly anticipated to create astoundingly engaging conversational scenes. It’s a testament to Sheridan’s skill as a writer, and solidifies his American frontier trilogy as one of the most well-written trilogies in recent times
Wind River is a deceptively simple film, but incredible writing from Sheridan, coupled with impressive cinematography and two world class performances from our leads, in amongst a sea of strong supporting performances, lend it an aura of impressive strength in amongst the crowded cinema slate. A must see.