First of all, I’m surprised there has been next to no fanfare for Wind River. Its reception has been kind, but it didn’t get much mainstream hype. My theory is the plot makes it sound like a conventional murder mystery. So, it wasn’t able to grab the attention of a large audience. I suppose for some of us, there’s always a presumption that “we’ve seen it all before”. In reality, it’s a whole lot more than what the plot suggests. It’s a conscious film about loss and marginalisation.
It challenges us on a very human level. It makes you think about death, corruption, victims and all the injustices in the world. Taylor Sheridan’s personal artistry is all over it. Again, he’s given the classic western a modern-day twist. He wrote the screenplay for last year’s Hell or High Water – a brilliant lawless frontier movie. Now with Wind River, he’s behind the camera and wraps up his social themes in a compelling crime narrative.
Set in the Native American outback, we follow Corey Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a veteran tracker. He patrols the Wind River reserve of Wyoming when he discovers the frozen body of a young woman in the snow. Her name is Natalie and an investigation opens. Lambert and FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizebeth Olsen) partner up. The Native American tribal police also get involved with the investigation, led by Sherriff Ben (Graham Green)
With the main story set up, we’re guided through a community spread out across an ice-cold landscape. The location feels like a place lost in time; it’s desolate and miserable. As the viewer, you feel connected to this environment, which is all thanks to the direction. Stunning landscape shots pull us deeper into an improvised version of real-life.
I’m no expert on cinematography, but there are so many enthralling shots. For example, there is one key action sequence with sharp frantic, wide shots. There’s nothing stylised about it, yet it’s still captivating and adrenaline-pumped.
Like all great thrillers, every scene in Wind River drips with suspense. As Lambert and Jane inch forward to finding the killer, the tone is always unsettling. The film’s unhurried pacing creates the kind of tension I hope I’ll never have to face in real life. I admire Sheridan for sticking to his guns and taking time to tell the story.
Given all that time, not enough gets given to fleshing out the characters. I’m not digging him out. Sheridan is a great writer, but the characters aren’t engaging enough. They feel like creations built only to drive home virtues of right and wrong.
As such, at least the characters aren’t cliched and keep the central drama moving. Things get intense in the last stretch and it seems to become another film, far from the slow and steady beginning. It builds to a masterful finale that will stay with you for a while.
As a film and as a story, Wind River is excellent. It might hit the accelerator too late for some viewers, as the real tension only comes in the second half. But there’s no doubt you’ll be pondering over the roles human beings play in the deaths of innocents. Check it out – you’ll be glad you did.
Written and directed by: Taylor Sheridan
Stars: Jeremy Renner, Elizebeth Olsen, Julia Jones, Graham Green, Gil Birmingham
Run Time: 107 minutes.