Taylor Sheridan's first film as director delivers a solid modern setting western with a vengeance.
Maybe to some of you the name of Taylor Sheridan won't ring a bell. But if I tell you that he's the man behind the scripts for Denis Villeneuve's Sicario and David Mackenzie's Hell or High Water, then it's more likely to pique your interest.
This time though, Sheridan decided not only to write but also direct his first feature film, Wind River. It probably won't come as a surprise that even though the film takes place in a modern setting, its themes and characters bring us back to those mythical times of the American West.
For Wind River, Sheridan moves away from the deserts and arid landscapes of his other scripts to the snowy fields and mountains of Wyoming. Cory Lambert (played by Jeremy Renner) is an U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent in charge of patrolling a remote area of Wyoming during its harsh winter, whose job usually involves nothing more than taking care of the predators that threat local farmers.
One day he comes across the body of a teenage Native American girl, frozen and barefooted in the snow. Cory soon recognizes the girl as the daughter of one of his closest friends. But worse than that, the incident strikes very close to Cory's heart as his daughter was also found dead some time ago in similar circumstances and the mystery surrounding her death still remains unsolved. It was a tragedy that was too much for his marriage to endure and created a gap between him and his Native American wife.
As the body is found inside the Wind River Indian reservation, the investigation duties lie upon the tribal police, led by its chief, played with charisma by Graham Greene. Soon the FBI joins the investigation, but it seems that the only resources that they’re willing to invest are the newbie agent Jane Banner (played by Elizabeth Olsen).
Sent straight from Las Vegas office, it’s quite evident that she’s not quite ready yet for the task; literally, she doesn’t even have the proper clothes to endure the harsh Wyoming’s winter. Fully aware of her limitations, agent Banner asks for Cory’s help, as she quickly realizes that his hunting skills and knowledge of the land will prove invaluable for the investigation.
Even though Wind River initially seems to follow the structure of a procedural thriller, it soon becomes apparent that finding out who did it is not what the movie is about. Cory’s not really trying to solve the current murder, but to purge his own demons and to try to get some closure. He was never able to find out what happened to his daughter, so for him finding the culprits this time is a way to avenge his daughter. Actually, the mystery resolution itself is a little too abrupt, as most of it is handed to the audience by the means of a flashback, not as a consequence of the investigation.
But still, even with those script issues, the film is a thrilling experience. I’m also happy to see Jeremy Renner in this role, away from the big blockbusters that he’s usually in. He does a wonderful job on bringing the character to life with a nuanced performance. Elizabeth Olsen does a great job too, portraying the rookie FBI agent who’s forced to harden herself to survive the environment and the foes she faces. And I know it sounds like a lame cliche, but on this movie the environment and landscapes become a character itself, thanks to the wonderful work of Ben Richardson as director of photography.
Full disclosure though, I’m a sucker for Westerns set in a modern setting, I admit it. So yes, of course, the film had all the ingredients beforehand to cater for my tastes. But still, Wind River is a solid movie that confirms once again that Taylor Sheridan is a name that deserves to be remembered.