Taylor Sheridan, screenwriter of Sicario and Hell or High Water, takes the director’s seat to finish his crime trilogy with Wind River. In the Wind River Indian Reservation, Cory, a veteran game hunter, helps FBI Agent Banner investigate the murder of a teenage girl named Natalie. Throughout the investigation, Sheridan reveals the tragedy of the characters, as well as the numbing imprisonment of the Native Americans. The film stars Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Jon Bernthal, Gil Birmingham, and Kelsey Asbille.
The screenplay for this film is what we’ve come to expect from Sheridan: stoic, intense, and in tune with the dark nature of human beings. There are some plot devices that seem stale, yet they only have the potential to be slightly distracting at best. Sheridan carefully unravels the mystery, and allows us to become familiar with the main character of Cory along the way, making for a poignant, chilling finale. Now, this isn’t an action film, but it does have some amazing action sequences that will knock you down. Sheridan builds up to these action sequences with tense moments that put you in a zone where you are unable to anticipate what will happen next.
There are few wasted moments, as most scenes are purposeful in character development or progression of the case. Themes of redemption, revenge, and the dark nature that isolation evokes are evident throughout, making for a layered, introspective viewing experience. Sheridan initially plays the film like a drama to develop the characters, especially Cory, so that we can be as sympathetic to his aim as possible. This way, when the shit hits the fan, we want to see him prevail more than anything. Sheridan does a fantastic job overall, and shows that he’s an actor’s director.
Jeremy Renner plays Cory, the veteran Hunter that helps FBI Agent Banner. Renner delivers a captivating, quiet performance, playing a broken man that has managed to hold it together in order to help do the right thing. He is a man driven by the emptiness he carries. Cory knows he can’t get back what he lost, but he knows that doing the right thing in assisting with this case will help him deal with that loss. He is a very observant character with a knack for tracking, and comes off almost like a Western anti-hero. This is without a doubt Renner’s best performance since The Town.
Elizabeth Olsen’s Agent Banner is out of her element, and she does somewhat remind one of Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling. However, her fresh eyes do give her a new look at this lonely, cold town. At the same time, Agent Banner shows that she can hold her own, especially when the wire snaps. Olsen’s performance feels very grounded, especially her reactions to the stories she hears or events that go down. We know that she hasn’t been in the game for too long, but she is game for doing what’s right.
Another notable performance comes from Gil Birmingham, who plays Martin, the father of the murdered teenage girl. Birmingham plays a man that feels the guilt of his ignorance on his shoulders, as it slowly crushes his soul out of him. The look on his face throughout shows that he is beyond saving.
Wind River shows us a man riding the line between revenge and redemption. There are so many losses that we must carry, just like Cory and Martin, but how we carry them is what defines us. This is also a film that shows us how selfish we can become, in taking land, taking lives, and taking away chances. Sheridan’s Wind River is one of the best films of 2017.