By: Peter Kosanovich
Wind River (2017): An FBI agent teams with a town's veteran game tracker to investigate a murder that occurred on a Native American reservation.
Taylor Sheridan is batting three for three with his recent screenplays. 2015’s Sicario earned him a Best Original Screenplay nomination with the Writers Guild of America. 2016’s Hell or High Water garnered further acclaim with another Writers Guild of America nomination and an added Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. This year he took things a step further with Wind River, by not only writing the screenplay but also making his feature length directorial debut. Let’s just say Mr. Sheridan is a man of many talents.
Wind River stars Jeremy Renner as Cory Lambert, a US Fish and Wildlife Service agent, his job is to hunt predators that kill livestock in and around the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. One day Lambert discovers the body of an 18-year old girl from the reservation, laying face down in the snow covered in her own blood, having escaped some ordeal before freezing to death in the snow. At this time rookie FBI Agent Jane Banner, played by Elizabeth Olsen, is brought in to oversee the investigation – taking place on a reservation creates interesting jurisdiction, as it does not fall under traditional United States law enforcement, but instead a combination of the FBI and tribal police. Upon Banner’s arrival it is revealed that the victim, now identified as Natalie Hanson, was raped prior to her death.
Being a total outsider, Banner requests the aid of Lambert to help track down the potential rapists and murderers. While the pair, along with Tribal Police Chief Ben, begin their search the audience is treated to some absolutely stunning cinematography courtesy of Ben Richardson; it demonstrates how beautiful and yet utterly bleak the area can be. It paints a portrait of life that is both stunning and haunting. After questioning the various members of Natalie’s family, her father and her drug-addict brother, Lambert, Banner, and Chief Ben learn of Natalie’s new boyfriend. But it is not long after that they find him dead too – and not just dead, but also his body has been scavenged by the wildlife. At this point the search intensifies to discover what happened to both victims.
This is easily one of Jeremy Renner’s best performances – a return to The Hurt Locker and The Town, but more tonally more akin to his performance in last year’s Arrival – he carries the film at points, and does so marvelously. Elizabeth Olsen plays her “fish-out-of-water” FBI Agent to a T, and even if her material was not greatest, she still nailed it. Each of the supporting cast were absolutely phenomenal! Gil Bermingham’s grieving father lent an emotional weight to a role that could have easily felt one-note – he truly lives in the character of a man on the verge of losing it all, while also trying to preserve the traditions of his fading heritage. Graham Greene portrays a likeable and completely believable Tribal Chief. Kelsey Asbille absolutely lives in Natalie’s skin, exuding the fight to survive mentality, and while her screentime was limited, it was worth every second. And Jon Bernthal, no spoilers, gives an incredibly tragic performance that continues his remarkable streak of recent credits.
While this was a tragically beautiful story with exceptional direction from Taylor Sheridan, it is not without flaw. The overall pacing of the film was on the slow side, which does not bother me in the slightest, but there was one scene in particular around two thirds through the film that dragged and continued on for too long. Aside from that, my biggest complaint was Elizabeth Olsen’s character. Olsen’s performance was what we have come to expect from her, exceptional, but the writing left something to be desired. Structurally Oslen’s character Banner sat in her “rookie-fish-out-of-water” role for too long and never really progressed out of it. Yes, she jumped into action and did not hesitate to assume her role as the lead FBI investigator, but the depth of her character made her rely on Jeremy Renner’s Lambert too often, allowing him to often dictate the search. That being said, the story was told from the perspective of Lambert, so it is not necessarily surprising that Olsen’s arc took a bit of a backburner to Renner’s, I just wish her character had not been written so wide-eyed for so long.
The rest of the screenplay was stunning – sparse where it needed to be, emotional at all the right moments, intense where appropriate – and the direction matched it perfectly. Taylor Sheridan truly knows how to build tension, and even when you predict what is going to happen it still shocks you! And he truly cares for each of his characters – Olsen’s character might not have been the strongest, but she still resonated with the audience and you believed her in the situation. Sheridan is one of those rising stars that needs to be noticed and taken seriously, whatever project he picks. He is structurally sound and emotionally poignant, and Wind River is a hell of a debut!
Rewatchability: High, but only if it’s your kind of movie. I know, that’s a caveat, but it’s an accurate one.
Recommendation: Definitely! Parts may be a little difficult to watch, but the subject matter is undeniably important. The film was dedicated to Native American women, who are make up the largest demographic of unreported crimes.
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