Wind River

Wind RiverDirector: Taylor Sheridan
Run Time: 1h 47m
Stars: 4.0

Sir Sheridan rounds out his frontier trilogy with yet another masterpiece.

The Daryl Dixon of Wyoming, Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), works for the Fish and Wildlife Department on the Wind River Indian Reservation. After a few residents complain that their livestock turn up half-eaten on their property, Lambert uses his tracking skills to hunt down the culprits. Instead he finds the body of a teenage girl miles from anywhere in the middle of the wilderness. She’s in pajamas and an overcoat but nothing else — not even shoes. Lambert reports the frozen corpse and the Reservation Sheriff (Graham Greene) contacts the FBI. Unfortunately the closest agent is greenie Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen). Attending a conference in Las Vegas, she is rerouted to Wind River to investigate what appears to be a homicide. But things don’t turn out to be that simple. Red tape and jurisdictions cause problems uncovering the truth. Lambert and Banner launch their own pseudo-unsanctioned investigation to find out what really happened. But for Lambert some of it hits too close to home. It all seems too familiar to a traumatic night buried in his past.

Taylor Sheridan is the cinematic God behind Sicario and Hell or High Water. Wind River is a the final installment in a trilogy of sorts; examining an American landscape from three very different perspectives. With these three films, Sheridan is diving deep into the motivations that drive a person to get closure. Facing your demons isn’t easy. And it isn’t pretty. Like the two films before it, Wind River is an unsettling glimpse into the emotionally fractured.

Let me make one thing clear: this film moves at a walking pace. It’s slow by some standards but it’s meant to be. Normal investigations aren’t all gun fights and death cheats. There are facts to uncover and pieces to puzzle together. Does that mean that we don’t get our big Sheridan finale? Of course not! The climax is amazing and you’ll be on the edge of your seat, and maybe even cheering a few characters on. The finale is well worth the wait.

These characters are complex. Lambert has suffered something no parent should have to live through. And it makes him the one person who can be useful on a case like this. A teenage girl shows up dead with no answers and no clues. As a man who has been through something similar, it enhances his tracking skills rather than hindering them. His bag of tricks is deep and he’ll need to use them all to get to the bottom of this. Banner on the other hand has very limited experience, both in life and the field. She still feels as though she needs to prove herself and it gets her into some sticky situations with the residents of the reservation.  Luckily, Lambert is there to balance her out and the two end up working really well together.

The chemistry behind Lambert and Banner no doubt comes from the familiarity between Renner and Olsen. Most famous for their roles in the Marvel universe — Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch accordingly — the two of them easily adjust to their roles in Wind River. The Native American representation is not to be outdone. Graham Greene is a great Sheriff You can tell he’s been through the jurisdiction fiasco before — more on that in a minute. He wants to solve the case but is also prepared for the rest: never knowing. Gil Birmingham returns to Sheridan’s roster as the father of the teen girl, Martin. This man has two children who have both abandoned him and their emotionally unstable mother. He lives in constant anger but the prospect of his daughter being killed in cold blood breaks him. The scenes he shares with Renner are so powerful. Kelsey Asbille plays the dead girl in some flashback scenes. Jon Bernthal also makes an appearance. But you’ll have to watch the film to see their interactions and understand why they are also great.

The landscape on Wind River is a character all its own. The snow, the cold, and the silence are intense. This would have been a very different film if it had taken place on warm summer’s day on a rolling plain. The anxiousness and depravity of the situation would not be as tangible. The elements play a large part in the truth our characters have to uncover. It’s a brutal world but a beautiful one. The cinematography capturing this landscape is breathtaking.

As impressive as everything is, there’s one thing that stood out among the rest: the story behind the script. If the grand finale doesn’t stick with you after you finish watching Wind River, the closing text will. Sheridan decided to write this story after hearing a jarring statistic regarding missing female Native Americans: there isn’t one. We have stats on practically every other race in the world, but none on the number of women that go missing on reservations. The government has so many loopholes and fine print attached to the way a crime is handled on reservation land that it’s like no one even bothers to try. That’s incredibly disturbing. So as much as this movie is an entertaining whodunit, it’s a reminder to be aware of yet another way our world is f’ed up.

I highly recommend Wind River to fans of Sheridan’s previous work. Keep in mind the pacing is not your normal shoot-em-up investigation. It’s paced intentionally and if you can get past that, you’ll be golden.

I gave each of Sheridan’s three films 4 stars. However, if I’m ranking them from most liked to least, the list would look something like:

  1. Hell or High Water (my review here)
  2. Wind River
  3. Sicario (my review here)

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