When director Taylor Sheridan jumped on board for Wind River, well, I didn’t know much about the film. I hardly heard of Sheridan roping in the likes of actors Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen. Going into this one blind was the biggest treat and added to this intense, captivating tale by Sheridan, who wrote Hell or High Water.
I usually post trailers by this point in my reviews, but for Wind River, avoiding a trailer at all costs will help keep things under wrap for its audience. Our tale of murder and mystery begins with a very wide shot of snowy mountaintops in the background, while in the forefront is a woman, bloodied and bruised, running barefoot in the freezing cold. Immediately, mise en scene told me she’s running from something or someone. Eventually, she collapses and dies in the snow.
The entirety of the first act is spent on introducing Cory Lambert (Renner), a hunter for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Shooting and killing a werewolf with a sniper rifle as it preys on livestock is definitely one way to introduce a main character. Lambert and his son, Casey (Teo Briones), decide to spend some time together, but not before we learn that Lambert and his wife, Wilma (Julia Jones), are divorced.
This is the weakest area of the film, as the connection with Lambert and his son isn’t as natural as I expected. Maybe Sheridan wanted to tap into the father-son relationship to give this film yet another dynamic, but the first act worked a bit too hard to establish this connection. We see Casey learning how to master riding a horse. This is the cutest portion of the film as the rest is visceral and more of a thriller. However, we needed this introduction into Lambert’s family dynamic to understand why later events resonate so deeply in his soul. You take the good with so-so, I guess.
One of the many things I love about Wind River is it doesn’t dumb down its script. You’re forced to pay attention to details — verbal and non-verbal — that usually are just shoved into exposition and dialogue during a single sequence with other films. There’s actual body language that speaks louder than words, especially during one sequence when Lambert discovers the dead girl’s body in the snow. Sheridan also wrote this script, which is inspired by true events, but luckily allowed Renner to act in his best role since I saw him in The Hurt Locker. The way Renner conveyed his hurting heart, bleeding emotion onto the screen, drew my attention in a way that hasn’t been done often in 2017.
When FBI agent Jane Banner (Olsen) is tasked with responding to the Native American rez, the film shifts gears from a murder-mystery to amurder-mystery with social commentary. Life on the rez isn’t easy, as our characters describe. There are drugs, alcohol, isolationism and call backs to how miserable life is for Native Americans.
Upon arriving after being the closest agent in the area, Banner complains of the cold and is criticized by some of those on the rez for being, well, white and unprepared. Clearly, Banner is over her head (she’s from South Florida, give her a break).
The addition of a wonderful supporting cast simply took my breath away in sequences (looking at you, Tokala Clifford), but what’s more is that the cast was true to the environment. If the character is meant to be Native American, the actor is Native American, for the most part. Ben, the tribal police chief, whom turns out to provide comic relief in moments with a certain charm, is played by Graham Greene. Natalie’s father — Natalie is [editor’s note: I’ll leave this up to you to discover 😉 ] — is wonderfully portrayed by Gil Birmingham. The list goes on.
The film wastes no time showcasing the horrors of this lifestyle. And it does so in such a visceral fashion. The score doesn’t overwhelm scenes, there’s natural lightning adding to the film’s authenticity and sound design that allows you to feel each gunshot, each punch to the gut. There’s an ominous tone that lingers over every moment, even the mushy-gushy stuff in the first act. The direction in Wind River is top-class.
As for who might have stole the show, I’m giving that accolade to Elizabeth Olsen, who provided raw emotion that just narrowly exceeded Renner. In moments like walking in on a mother slashing at her wrists and hands, we know it’s an emotional sequence, but Olsen’s believable acting paved the way for her character to be the most relatable. I can’t put myself in the shoes of a wildlife hunter, but I sure can see myself in situations that are too big for myself to handle, a predicament her character found herself in more often than not.
I can’t give too much away, as the meat of the film lies in its third act, but the build-up is worth a beautiful ride that not many directors can nail. Sheridan provides one of the strongest films of the year while giving its audience a worthy pay-off in the end.
I was treated to a press screening for purposes of this review, thanks in HUGE part to Allied Integrated Marketing and The Weinstein Company. ❤
“Wind River” is rated R, runs 1 hour and 47 minutes and opens nationwide in North America on Aug. 18, 2017.
Here’s a list of local South Florida theaters you can catch this gem at:
- Aventura Mall 24 Theatres Aventura
- Coral Ridge 10 Theatres Ft. Lauderdale
- Sunset Place 24 Theatres South Miami
- Weston 8 Sunrise
- Cinebistro at Cityplace Dor Doral
- Dolphin Mall 19 Theatre Miami
- Miami Lakes 17 Miami Lakes
- Cinemark Paradise 24 Davie (Ft. Lauderdale)
- Cinepolis Grove 13 Theatre Coconut Grove
- Cinepolis Deerfield 8 Deerfield Beach
- Gateway 4 Fort Lauderdale
- IPIC Intracoastal North Miami
- The Landmark at Merrick P Coral Gables
- Regal Entertainment Oakwood 18 Hollywood
- Regal Entertainment Kendall Village Stadium 16 Miami
- Regal Entertainment South Beach 18 Miami Beach
WEST PALM BEACH/BOCA RATON/TREASURE COAST
- CityPlace 20 West Palm Beach
- Annette Oriole Cinemas aka Movie Delray Beach
- Downtown 16 Cinemas Palm Beach Gardens
- Palace 20 Boca Raton
- Boynton Beach 14 Theatre Boynton Beach
- Cinepolis Jupiter 14 Jupiter
- IPic Mizner Park 8 Theatres Boca Raton
- Regal Entertainment Shadowood 16 Boca Raton
- Regal Entertainment Regal Treasure Coast Mall Jensen Beach
- Regal Entertainment Royal Palm Beach 18 Royal Palm Beach