2017, R, 107 min. Directed by Taylor Sheridan. Starring Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Graham Greene, Gil Birmingham, Jon Bernthal, Kelsey Asbille, Julia Jones, James Jordan.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 11, 2017
Taylor Sheridan, the actor best known for his work in Sons of Anarchy, became a much-heralded screenwriter with his scripts for Sicario in 2015 and Hell or High Water (nominated for an Oscar) in 2016. Now the writer of those dynamic yet socially conscious thrillers is in the spotlight for directing, in addition to writing, Wind River, a police procedural set on an Indian reservation in Wyoming. Sheridan exhibits a sure hand as a director, especially when it comes to action sequences, and Wind River underscores his place as a filmmaker to watch. Sheridan won the Un Certain Regard’s award for Best Director at this year’s Cannes. However, Sheridan’s screenplay, despite some very nice touches and his typically laconic dialogue, is the weakest of his recent trilogy in terms of building tension and mystery. Nevertheless, it succeeds well enough on its own terms.
In the best role he’s had since starting down the superhero highway, Jeremy Renner stars as Cory Lambert, a game warden for the Fish and Wildlife Service who, while out hunting wild bears that have been devouring livestock, discovers in the snow the frozen body of a young Native American girl – barefoot, bloodied, and apparently raped. Ben (Greene), the local authority, begins the investigation, but homicides on the reservation are federal affairs, so the FBI sends in Jane Banner (Olsen), an effective but green agent. In turn, she induces Cory to assist them in hunting the dead girl’s assailants.
Solving the crime is a matter of basic police work. What’s interesting about Wind River is all the stuff that anchors the story in its location: the frozen and isolated land and its disaffected inhabitants. The snow is almost a character in itself – unrelenting, unyielding, and ever-present. Jane is the outsider despite her efforts on behalf of the victim. Olsen performs honorably, but it’s too much for us to believe that her superiors sent her there solo and with no winter gear. Cory, a modern Western figure, exists in an odd form of social limbo, divorced from a Native American woman and emotionally numbed by a personal tragedy. Cory’s backstory is nicely doled out in pieces throughout the film in a way that enhances the narrative. Gil Birmingham (Jeff Bridges’ co-detective in Hell or High Water) also delivers an affecting turn as the dead girl’s father. In the end, it’s these performances, the unforgiving landscape, and the jagged social milieu that stick with the viewer rather than the story itself.