Wind River (2017)
Directed by: Taylor Sheridan
Written by: Taylor Sheridan
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Graham Greene, Gil Birmingham, Jon Bernthal, Kelsey Chow, James Jordan
After a long summer full of exciting and hotly anticipated mainstream films falling sadly below short of expectations, Taylor Sheridan’s Cannes favorite Wind River feels like a revelation. Sheridan is perhaps best-known for penning 2016’s Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water, and Denis Villeneuve’s incredible 2015 film Sicario. With these impressive credits to his name, it’s no surprise that Wind River is another notch in an already impressive catalogue. The crime-drama is a well-worn genre with dozens of variants and sub genres that fit within in, and Sheridan manages to make his latest film feel fresh and inventive, even when his story is visiting familiar territory. Wind River is a visceral, thrilling, well-acted shot in the arm that the late-summer movie scene so badly needed.
Wind River takes place in the real-life Indian reservation of the same name, where Fishing and Wildlife Service worker Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) has discovered the frozen body of 18-year old Natalie Hanson. All signs point to foul play, as the girl has been found out of the way and was not wearing shoes at the time of her death. Fresh-faced FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is called in to help crack the case. Banner along with Cory and the Tribal Police Chief Ben (Graham Greene) immediately get down to business in order to solve yet another untimely death within the Reservation. What comes next is tragic, brooding, and at all times tense.
One of my favorite aspects of Wind River is the performance of Jeremy Renner as the grief-stricken Cory Lambert. Renner seems to be channeling his inner Clint Eastwood in his performance – his stoic, unflinching nature is prevalent throughout the film, but he also isn’t afraid to effectively emote when it’s required of him. This is the most I’ve ever enjoyed Renner as a serious performer – it’s certainly a far cry from his recent phoned in Marvel appearances. The more we as an audience find out about the character of Cory Lambert, the more I appreciated the subtleties Renner was bringing to the table.
Another incredibly strong aspect of Wind River is Taylor Sheridan’s original screenplay – it’s clear from the start that Sheridan cares a great deal about the subject matter at hand. His writing of the film’s more procedural elements is realistic and perfectly believable, and his understanding of the perils of modern life on the Reservation is dealt with very sensitively and with obvious passion. The film is well-paced and doesn’t take too long to establish our cast of characters – motivations are made immediately clear, and we have some understanding of what direction our characters are headed in. While I can’t claim that Wind River is devoid of cliches, Sheridan’s script does enough with those cliches to make them feel fresh and exciting once again.
Supporting his script is Sheridan’s tremendous direction and eye for detail. He continuously ratchets up the tension until the film is at a fever pitch – Wind River’s climactic moments are some of its best. The highlight of this escalating tension and attention to detail comes late in the film – we’re introduced to a host of new characters who we immediately assume are up to no good. The story of Natalie’s disappearance is told through flashbacks, and many of these new characters make prominent appearances – it’s clear that nobody here is innocent. There’s a shootout late in the film that is handled in a way that I’ve never seen before – dozens of bullets are fired and yet hardly any of them seem to actually make contact with their targets. The shootout is awkward and chaotic and feels perfectly genuine because of it.
The last highlight of the film for me are two of the supporting performances found within. Gil Birmingham’s small turn as Natalie’s father Martin is incredibly emotional and really helps to nail home what exactly is at stake with the investigation. If I had my money on a dark horse early-Oscar nomination, I’d put it on Gil Birmingham. Graham Greene’s turn as the Tribal Police Chief is also memorable, as he brings a sense of humor to the picture, but never allows it to distract from the task at hand. His presence feels necessary throughout the film, rather than feeling like an afterthought. Both men turn in terrific supporting performances, and I desperately hope they get the attention they so very deserve.
Wind River is easily my favorite film of 2017 at the moment, and for very good reason. It’s an incredibly strong entry from an emerging voice in Hollywood, featuring tense storytelling, an incredible lead performance from Jeremy Renner, tight pacing, and impressive supporting performances. It tells an important story that deals with the current Native American missing women’s crisis, and feels incredibly relevant today. Wind River pulls not a single punch and I appreciated that a great deal – it’s visceral, gut wrenching, and horrifying in the best way. Wind River gets my highest recommendation.