| A veteran tracker with the Fish and Wildlife Service helps to investigate the murder of a young Native American woman, and uses the case as a means of seeking redemption for an earlier act of irresponsibility which ended in tragedy.
Taylor Sheridan concludes his white-knuckled American frontier trilogy with Wind River, a film that’s almost a contemporary-set spiritual successor to The Revenant; and not just in the “white man acting as a champion for the Native American people” way, but more so in its snow-capped brutality and its harrowing bite of survivalism. Wind River almost completely fails as a mystery, but that’s not the movie that Sheridan’s trying to make. It’s less about who did the raping and killing, and more about the fact that the raping and killing actually happened. What Sheridan has on his mind is that it’s a cruel world, and he pulls back few punches in showing this to his audience. It’s a no-nonsense picture, but the violence and gore are kept sparse and chaotic, enhancing the impact for when these elements actually arise.
Sheridan’s abilities behind the camera flourish in Wind River; Sheridan’s not just competent, but confident. The sense of setting that this thing packs is wonderfully concocted by little more than a sensible camera, and the harsh and often surreal atmosphere that comes with it is achieved spectacularly. Once we venture out into the perils of the snow, Sheridan’s directorial hand keeps itself grasped on the audience’s throat in the best way possible.
As a screenwriter breaking through into the mainstream in recent years, Taylor Sheridan has a tendency to at once showcase and violently punish contemporary America’s openly violent nature. The film’s strength is in its probing and understanding of Native American culture, as well as in its brutally honest depiction of Mother Nature’s effect on their lives. What makes the intertwining of themes and plot in ‘Wind River’ so invigorating is how one feels essential to the other. There are no glaring twists within the actual mystery that drives the film, but due to the hostile and isolated nature of the environment in which it takes place any effort to solve the crime becomes infinitely more difficult. Sheridan is keen to point out how little the FBI seem to care about actually solving this case and how the existing resources to do so are completely inadequate.
It does take its hits in a screenplay that seems like an early draft. As the newly introduced FBI agent Olsen’s performance feels reminiscent of Jodie Foster in ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ and Emily Blunt in ‘Sicario’, as she plays the character innocent and vulnerable to a certain degree but also punctuated with a steely determination that marks her as a strong and empathetic presence. But it’s particularly Olsen’s character that’s entirely under-developed, which is surprising given Sheridan’s history. Jeremy Renner fully conveys a world weary persona from his tone of voice to his entire psychical stance. It’s a character type that Renner has played before but never to such an impactful degree as he does here.
Wind River is executed extremely well and boasts some strong performances and direction. While this movie isn’t particularly original or inventive at all, it does succeed at what it sets out to do well- in that regard it’s very similar to the other films Sheridan has written, Sicario and Hell or High Water. I’m very excited to see what Taylor Sheridan does next and I truly think he’s becoming a real talent to watch out for.
‘Wind River’ gets an 8.5/10
(PS. As mentioned on my twitter, the review for Aronofsky’s ‘Mother!’ will be released some time later. I need more time to really think about the film and to fully assemble my thoughts on it. Maybe even watch it a second time.)
Shot on 35's Rating Sheet: 9.5 – 10.0: Excellent! 8.5 – 9.5: Fantastic, but with minor flaws 7.5 – 8.5: Great, but with issues 6.5 – 7.5: Okay, but with major issues 5.5 – 6.5: Had potential, but falls flat hard. 4.5 – 5.5: Disaster!
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