Wind River is the latest Neo-Western from writer Taylor Sheridan. Sheridan’s previous work Sicario and Hell or High Water garnered critical and audience praise which resulted in an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay for Hell and High Water. Sheridan has described Wind River as the third part of his trilogy on modern America. The film follows Cory Lambert, a tracker who helps investigate the murder of a young Native American woman.
It is also directed by Sheridan and he does an excellent job in evoking the atmosphere of the freezing Wyoming tundra. The cold winds bite at the viewer as much as the characters. The challenges of investigating a crime in this harsh environment are clear and means that the investigators must move quickly in order to preserve evidence. This setting feels like a character in the film and the “snow and silence” (as one character puts it) dominates everything..
The performances are excellent. Jeremy Renner is wonderful as Lambert, the quiet tracker who proves indispensable to the investigation. Renner hasn’t truly shone in a film since The Hurt Locker but here his performance is even better. He turns (along with Sheridan’s writing) a fairly stock character into someone far deeper and emotionally powerful. When awards season comes, I hope Renner’s portrayal is remembered. Elizabeth Olsen is strong as Jane Banner, the FBI agent sent to investigate the cause of death of Natalie, the 18 year old girl found dead on the Wind River reservation. A fine selection of Native American actors including Graham Greene and Martin Sensmeier round out a characterful and impressive cast.
But the most impressive performance comes from Gil Birmingham as Martin, Natalie’s father. Birmingham was excellent in Hell or High Water as Jeff Bridges’ long suffering partner and he excels here. While he has a limited amount of screen-time and is playing a character which we’ve seen countless times before, he is heartbreaking and has the best scenes in the film.
The plot is pleasingly straight forward and the mystery is satisfying. Sheridan is passionate about highlighting the injustices faced by Native Americans and makes this the focus of the film. Wind River has a measured pace but never feels slow and the solution to the crime makes sense and is utterly heart-wrenching. Sheridan’s writing is realistic and engrossing and is brilliantly structured. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis create a fantastic score which is in turn mournful and tense. The moments of action are handled expertly, the violence never overcoming the realism of the story.
Overall Wind River is a sobering, heartfelt crime film with expert performances and real emotion coursing through it. Sheridan’s trilogy has evolved from the tense action of Sicario to the emotionally ambiguous Hell or High Water and now to Wind River. Wind River is the least action packed of the trio but packs the most punch. The final two title cards are insanely powerful and linger long after the credits have rolled. This film received an eight minute standing ovation at the Cannes film festival and is definitely deserving of its acclaim. Sheridan is one of the most exciting voices in modern cinema and has yet to take a misstep. Wind River is one of the films of the year.
Wind River is in cinema’s nationwide now. Image source: Indiewire.com.