Wind River – Film Review

Director: Taylor Sheridan

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Gil Birmingham, Graham Greene and Kelsey Asbille

Release Date: 8 September

Wind River is the first film both directed and penned by Taylor Sheridan, the Academy Award-nominated writer with two excellent screenplays already under his belt (2015’s Sicario and 2016’s Hell or High Water.)

With that in mind, expectations are understandably high for his first writer/director effort. So how does it hold up against his last two scripts? Pretty well, as it turns out. Although it may not have the gritty style of Sicario or the fleshed-out characters of Hell or High Water, it makes a very welcome change to the usual summer blockbuster fare.

The story revolves around the rape and murder of a young woman, Natalie (Kelsey Asbille) on the Native American reservation of the titualar Wind River. After local Wildlife Service game tracker Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) discovers Natalie’s body deep in the snowy mountains, he calls in the help of the FBI, arriving in the form of rookie agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen). As they explore the reservation, the pair become embroiled in an increasingly complex mystery.

What follows is a fairly typical murder-mystery thriller that’s elevated by Sheridan’s tight writing, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ haunting score and an excellent central performance by Jeremy Renner. As Cory Lambert, Renner totally embodies the character of a man struggling with great loss in his past. After Avengers 2 and Arrival, Renner is quickly proving himself as the actor to cast as a complex father figure.

While Renner has plenty to work with, unfortunately the same can’t be said for Elizabeth Olsen. As Jane Banner, her character is woefully underdeveloped compared to Renner’s Lambert. Turning up to the freezing crime scene in a light shirt and heels, Banner is portrayed as the rookie from the offset, reliant on Lambert to basically do everything for her. Criticism has previously been levelled at Sheridan for Emily Blunt’s diminishing role as Sicario progressed but it made sense in the context of that film, where the audience is thrown into more and more confusing scenarios. With Wind River, Olsen’s Banner never really develops beyond the fresh-faced rookie throughout the film.

Drawbacks with Olsen’s character aside, Wind River sports an amazing supporting cast of Native American-related actors, in particular understated performances from the always excellent Gil Birmingham (Twilight) and Graham Greene (Dances with Wolves). As with Sicario, the plot gets progressively more complex but Sheridan never falls back on flashy, distracting film-making so often present in directorial debuts. Wind River almost completely relies on its strong, linear storytelling to further the plot. The one time Sheridan has fun with structure leads to an astounding, uncomfortable third act sequence that could only be achieved through the medium of film.

Fans of Sicario and Hell or High Water should definitely seek out this tight thriller.

Score: 3/5
Written by Julian Callan

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