Wind River is a chilling thriller that follows a rookie FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) who teams up with a local game tracker with deep community ties and a haunted past (Jeremy Renner) to investigate the murder of a local girl on a remote Native American Reservation in the hopes of solving her mysterious death. Written and directed by Taylor Sheridan, Wind River also stars Gil Birmingham, Jon Bernthal, Julia Jones, Kelsey Asbille, and James Jordan.
With the critical success of Sicario and Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan’s directorial debut was a highly anticipated title going into 2017 and was met with overwhelmingly positive reviews out of Sundance. Much like Sheridan’s notable writing credits, Wind River is drenched with atmosphere and ambiguity as the slow burn murder mystery ramps up in its final stages. Both Sicario and Hell or High Water were directed by visionary storytellers who were able to make the most of their landscape, here Sheridan does the same as he paints a visceral portrait of the bleak emptiness of Wyoming.
The story itself has been told time and time again but here we get to experience it from a location that isn’t often shown in films. Many are calling Wind River the third film in Sheridan’s ‘American Frontier’ series in which he spotlights crime in desolate locations across the US. All three have similarities to one another, whether it’s the comparison of Sicario’s Kate Macer and Wind River’s Jane Banner who are both FBI agents tasked with exposing a crime much bigger than anticipated or Toby from Hell or High Water and Cory from Wind River both being complex fathers with motives to better themselves and their family.
The film has steady pacing throughout before the finale doubles up on the tension and establishes its greatness. The film thrives thanks to its many technical achievements. The cinematography is prolific with vast shots of snowmobiles shredding through white powder, giving the setting its own identity. Between the precise sound mixing and the haunting score, there is rarely a chance to exhale and steady your heartbeat.
Both Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner are solid here as they brave the elements in an effort to put this murder mystery to bed. Olsen plays the young FBI agent who lacks on location experience but makes up for it with sheer determination. Her naivety has drawn comparisons to the role of Clarice in The Silence of the Lambs played by Jodie Foster though Clarice was given more depth and nuance.
Jeremy Renner plays Cory, a tracker who is well respected by his fellow locals and is tasked with helping Agent Banner. He elects to stay quiet as his subtle mannerisms show his bottled up emotions. What you see on paper is what you get with both characters. Neither of them are fleshed out and given profound dialogue but the chemistry between them is natural and gives the film a more surreal perspective. Jon Bernthal has a brief appearance and gives another quality performance, the same could also be said for Graham Greene and Gil Birmingham who are two of the most well respected First Nations and Native American actors working in the industry today.
Taylor Sheridan’s hot streak continues with his chilling directorial debut Wind River. Thanks to the strong performances from the two leads and the supporting cast, the film is able to fire on all cylinders. On paper Wind River is a gritty thriller but at its core Sheridan and co help to shine a light on the despair of the isolated Native American reservations and acknowledge the harsh lifestyle. We can only hope that Sheridan continues on the path of telling intriguing crime stories that can spark a conversation and raise awareness to the general public.