A powerhouse directorial debut and yet another great script, Taylor Sheridan proves yet again that he’s one of the most talented figures in Hollywood today. Although not as well-defined as it could’ve been, Wind River is certainly a proud achievement for a first-time director and an excellent sign of things to come.
A quiet film, Wind River takes place entirely in Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. When hunter Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) discovers the body of an 18-year-old Natalie Hanson out in the wilderness, FBI rookie Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is called to the scene to determine the cause of death. When the cause of death becomes apparent, and a lack of backup around them, Cory and Jane are forced to take matters into their own hands.
The story, although well conceived and written – is pretty straightforward. A murder mystery in a small town, with much darker undertones and seedier areas. The storyline is nothing groundbreaking and original, and although sometimes too in your face (characters tend to say how they feel, even as it’s apparent to the audience), it never becomes unbearable or unrealistic. Elizabeth Olsen is fantastic as the “out-of-your-element” rookie FBI agent, and Jeremy Renner gives what is perhaps his best performance yet. Also, a surprise Jon Bernthal appearance never hurts.
Wind River feels both isolated and desolate. Although the film showcases its vast and sweeping landscapes, the film relishes in its small scope. A small town, a handful of characters, and a personal plot-line makes the stakes more realistic and more grounded, giving the film a darker tone and more opportunity to let the tone and stakes raise the tension dramatically.
A master of tension, Sheridan hasn’t let down audiences yet. Surprising everyone with Sicario (2015), he proved he could write a great script with exceptionally written edge-of-your seat moments. He showed everyone yet again he was no joke with Hell or High Water (2016), and it feels like with Wind River, he’s just showing off. One of the best writers when it comes to creating tension, he seems to envelop it all around his films, hidden in small places. It’s hidden in every street corner, every car in Sicario. It’s hidden in every town block, every highway in Hell or High Water. It’s hidden behind every tree and every bush in Wind River. Using this to his advantage, Sheridan plays with the tension by pulling and pulling at the scene like a rubber band, until it finally snaps. Wind River has one moment of these in particular, where although not as great as Hell or High Water‘s closing scene, stands alongside Sicario’s best, and among the best tension-fueled scenes of the year
Through all triumphs of the film, the film does have its flaws. The general score of the film is fine. Quite unnerving and sentimental at points, there are a few moments of the film where the score just didn’t click or work with what was happening at the time, which may cause some of the audience members to be distracted and taken out of the moment. The film also feels like it lacks a clear, defined second act. Once the big, final set-piece occurs, I was shocked to see the story coming to a close. Looking back on it, it’s apparent the film DOES have a middle act, yet while watching the film it certainly didn’t feel that way at the time, and rather a long first act and third act glued together.
Although a bit rough around the edges at times, Wind River is still a great debut for Taylor Sheridan and a great sign of things to come. As a screenwriter, he’s undoubtedly talented, and he’s now shown he’s more than capable of expanding to other facets of film-making with success. Wind River lies amongst the best of the year, and has me extremely interested in whatever Sheridan wants to do next.