A sobering, ice-cold murder mystery.
Behind all the greats there’s a writer. Let me ask you, what do Sicario and Hell or High Water, both films of the year in 2015 and 2016 respectively, have in common? A certain Taylor Sheridan is the scribe responsible. Now taking a seat in the directors chair (and also retaining his role as scriptwriter), he has brought Wind River to cinemas, a stunningly crafted thriller that solidly works through a hesitant bulk of narrative to deserving pay offs.
Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) hunts the icy Wyoming landscape for predators everyday. When a young Native American girl is found raped and murdered, he assists FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) to find the killer, whilst tackling his inner grief at the tragic loss of his daughter years ago.
It may be a coincidence, as Sheridan doesn’t always work alongside the same cinematographer (this time it’s the talented Ben Richardson), but all of his work is meticulously shot. Long soaring views of the notoriously snowy land not only impress but reinforce the sheer desolation the characters have to work against. “Sick of all the fucking snow! Sick of the silence!” a character utters, tearing away the illusion of the seemingly peaceful land which is in fact deeply troubled.
Sheridan informs us that no statistics are held for missing Native American women. An infuriating revelation certainly, that makes the events which unfold throughout Wind River more painful to process post viewing. Renner’s often seen white snowsuit, a camouflage for hunting, also gives vines that the land is a constant crime scene, which if the lack of real statistics is anything to go by, is a staggeringly accurate perception. Like Renner’s character advises, “you’ve got to take the pain”, and damn right we take a lot.
It’s an acutely casted picture, with tons of supporting players offering a fair amount of impact. Some should have been given more attention, such as Renner’s ex-wife Wilma (Julia Jones) and the grieving father of the girl Martin (Gil Birmingham). Even Elizabeth Olsen’s impressive turn as an admittedly rookie agent, a charmingly relatable character treated as an outsider, and to be frank, a weak woman by the naive locals, isn’t given enough of a backstory for the viewers to fully care about her wellbeing. Being well under 2 hours, it’s understandable, but Sheridan could have easily expanded this into a 150 minute chiller with a richer, more satisfying plot.
Renner is a reliably able performer, as seen in The Bourne Legacy, Kill the Messenger, and of course, the Marvel films as Hawkeye. This is a career best however, channelling a contemplative performance that expertly handles anger and despair, a beacon of reliability for everyone in the town but equally a formidable force of nature on par with the blood-stopping temperatures (veer away if you struggle with frostbite, black toes galore). As he traverses the intermittent snowfall and difficult terrain, it can be hard to figure out what he’s thinking, keeping his character intriguing throughout. Whilst Sheridan does dabble in turning him into a one-man revenge machine, reminiscent of Denzel on Man on Fire, for the most part he is a remarkably real character.
In many ways, this feels like a spiritual follow up to 2013’s parental nightmare Prisoners, directed by Denis Villeneuve (whom Sheridan has worked with in the past). Renner feels like a developed version of Jackman’s uncontrollably enraged father (who processes his stress with inevitably gruesome results). Whilst Prisoners dealt with the abduction of a child, this goes a step closer to murder, but makes the necessary adjustments to avoid a clash in tone or too many similarities. Prisoners is executed perfectly, dragging you along the constantly developing trauma between the parents, whereas Wind River moves a little slow in places it shouldn’t, albeit the climax is a heart-stopping triumph.
To place the film in a specific genre is difficult, as it incapsulates several; the score is reminiscent of Hell or High Water, there’s the underlying intensity as seen in No Country for Old Men, there’s the persistent ‘whodunnit’ narrative similar to Prisoners. If I were to give it a name, it’d be a neo-western-noir mystery thriller. Cinema would be a better place if there was more of them.
A simmering, at times tough to watch thriller that cements Sheridan as a skilled filmmaker.
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