Taylor Sheridan is a man of the moment, after writing the Denis Villeneuve-directed Sicario he then wrote the superb Hell or High Water, which is a modern Western masterpiece (My review here) and now he’s followed it up by making his feature debut, and on writing duties again, with Wind River – an intense, insightful crime thriller that’s set in the unforgiving plains of Wyoming and features the exceptional Elizabeth Olsen alongside Jeremy Renner giving the performance of his career to-date.
Inspired by real events, and depressingly sad facts you’ll learn by the end of this compelling drama, Wind River follows the life of local hunter Cory Lambert, played by Renner, who discovers the body of a girl who’s been killed on the vast, remote Native American reservation in which he works. Her death is suspicious and reported as a homicide, and so the FBI are sent to investigate but it’s only the one agent, and it’s rookie Agent Jane Banner (Olsen) who’s been tasked with solving what they (probably) think is routine and given the location, it isn’t something they’re prepared to commit too many people to.
Wind River is cleverly paced, beautifully filmed and features outstanding performances from the entire ensemble cast. While it’s a perceptive, intelligent feature, the bleakness of the reality in which its set is never understated by director Sheridan. His storytelling is honest and absorbing, where the characters are the most important part. While the events of the murder, and the stories revealed in the aftermath are layered in sadness, there’s something very special about these people who are out to find some integrity from what surrounds them.
Renner is outstanding as Cory, reflecting a man with a tragic history sensitively and giving the best performance of his career, so far. But Cory isn’t there to feel the sadness of others, he’s also got a job to do and the people around him rely on him to do the work they’ve come to expect. There’s an unusual layer of understanding and warmth beneath the tough, experienced surface and this characteristic also comes across in those significant people around him.
This includes Olsen’s Jane, who’s expertly authentic as the rookie agent and finds her character grow throughout a whole host of extreme situations, and in constantly in the face of danger. Jane not only succeeds as an FBI agent trying to find herself in a different place that she’s used to, she becomes the environment around her, kicks it in the balls and wins. There’s also an important mention for a heartfelt turn from Gil Birmingham as Martin, plus the legendary Graham Greene as local sheriff Ben, he’s vital to everything that happens and not only points out the reality of how the outside world ignores whatever happens on the reservations, but also helps trying to do what’s right with what little they have.
Wind River does bring a cathartic redemption for its characters but doesn’t pretend to denounce the reality of the saddening truths of how we treat our fellow human beings or, indeed, how we choose to forget some more than others. But it’s also a positive film, in a different way, and full of characters aiming to do the best in heartbreaking situations. Wind River is strikingly atmospheric, hauntingly emotive and expertly achieved with top class actors and, although it sounds like a cliché, is an absolute must watch.