With Wind River, Taylor Sheridan follows up his great screenplays for Sicario and Hell or High Water with another wonderful screenplay and a great directing job to boot. Like Sicario and Hell or High Water, Wind River is a movie set on the margins of society, this time on an impoverished Native American reservation where a young woman has died under mysterious circumstances. The film has the set-up of a clichéd procedural; Jeremy Renner is the wily explorer who knows the wilderness & Elizabeth Olsen is the naïve FBI agent who knows nothing of life out in the wilderness. But Sheridan really nails everything perfectly here. He crafts a really starkly beautiful picture of the wilderness with some beautiful, haunted, atmosphere building, but he also sets that against the equally stark, but not beautiful, image of poverty and hopelessness of the people on the reservation. I think he’s really nailed something here in his portrait of the crushing hopelessness and despair of life in this community that’s buried in the wilderness. The performances and characters are really good. It would be very easy for the characters to fall into the typical stereotypes, but Sheridan dodges it. Renner’s character doesn’t condescend to Olsen’s and he recognizes that she’s simply out of her element, not stupid; and Olsen’s character knows she’s out of her depth and, surprisingly, she isn’t defensive – she genuinely wants to solve the case and if she has to admit to not always knowing what she’s doing, she’ll do it and hope to learn. It’s really, I think, Olsen’s best performance so far. Her character is an empath; she feels deeply the suffering of the people she encounters and of the victim. Late in the film, after she herself has been through a dangerous, life-threatening experience, she finally breaks and weeps. But it’s not for herself; her own suffering and pain has brought home to her again, in a more intense way, the horrible suffering the victim must have experienced. Graham Greene & Gil Birmingham are both on hand and are quite good, Birmingham especially, who you may remember from Hell or High Water as Jeff Bridges’ long-suffering partner. There is one fly in the ointment, an actor named James Jordan. He’s pretty awful. His part is fortunately small, but it’s unfortunately quite pivotal and comes close to robbing a couple of key scenes of impact. But that’s a small complaint really, given just how powerful I found the rest of the film. It’s just a really wonderful mystery with some seriously effective drama in its exploration of sorrow and despair. It’s beautifully directed and wonderfully acted. Here’s hoping it doesn’t go unnoticed and here’s hoping for a great career for new writer-director Sheridan. He’s got the goods; so does this movie. 4 stars.
tl;dr – another excellent screenplay from Sheridan, plus his directing debut; a chilly, atmospheric, character based thriller that packs a near-perfect punch. 4 stars.