Taylor Sheridan has made his name as the writer of gritty, sincere action films like Sicario and Hell or High Water, and it’s fair to say he doesn’t change a winning formula with his directorial debut, Wind River. Summoning some exhilarating character-led action, Sheridan goes even darker than those recent films, though at a few key moments less might have been more.
For a two-hour film, Wind River flies by, despite its heavy subject matter, thanks to engrossing performances and a taut, compelling story. It’s nominally a whodunit motivated by personal tragedy (that old chestnut), but the case becomes secondary to the characters’ quest for survival.
Set in the stunning snowy country of Wyoming, the environment becomes a powerful force in the story, shaping how the characters behave. In one key scene, Corey (Renner) talks about how luck only exists in cities, where a bus might hit you, for example. In the country, you can only trust yourself to survive. It’s just you vs. nature. It explains a lot about Sheridan’s filmmaking philosophy.
You can tell from his writing that Sheridan thinks about every little detail of a scene, and that translates into his visual language too. He’s got every base covered on this personal film, with incredible photography (courtesy of Ben Richardson), a mastery of story from his own script, and his past experience as an actor helping to craft powerful performances, particularly when Renner and Gil Birmingham share the screen.
While the mechanics of storytelling are clearly child’s play to Sheridan at this point, he still throws out a fair bit of cod philosophy that doesn’t always hit its mark. Thankfully, Jeremy Renner proves as safe a pair of hands as ever, grounding the emotion and making this into much more than the formulaic revenge pic it could’ve become.
CAST: Elizabeth Olsen, Jeremy Renner, Jon Bernthal, Gil Birmingham
DIRECTOR: Taylor Sheridan
WRITER: Taylor Sheridan
SYNOPSIS: A rookie FBI agent teams up with a local game tracker to investigate the murder of a local girl on a remote Native American Reservation.