Taylor Sheridan has been on a roll. His last two screenplays where greatly acclaimed: Sicario and Hell or Highwater (the latter for which he was nominated for an Oscar). The screenwriter (and occasional actor) has finally been given the reigns to direct his own film, and while it’s a minor step down from Hell or Highwater, we can’t really blame him too much, having set the bar very high.
Wind River is another crime drama set in the American west. Here we spend much more time in the snow, compared to the sandy settings of Sheridan’s other films. Jane (Elizabeth Olsen) is an FBI agent sent to the Native American reservation of Wind River, Colorado to investigate the death of a local girl. She’s aided in her pursuit by the hunter Cory (Jeremy Renner) who knows the terrain as good as anyone.
The film looks at the “deep America” that is so often ignored by Hollywood films, but that Sheridan has taken to exploring. While Wind River will seem more familiar to fans of Fargo, it nevertheless holds a unique spot in cinematic history, as it goes about with a majority Native American cast (though of course the two heroes have to be white…). Sheridan has Wind River mourn the disappearing west and the vacuum that is pulling the people that live there into oblivion. But the switch of screenwriter-only to screenwriter and director is noticeable, and not always in a good way.
Sheridan being the director of his own script, goes for much more dialogue than is necessary, making a lot of the exposition seem blunt and scenes that may go on for more than they should. The mystery itself doesn’t rapt our attention until the great finale, everything up until that point is held up by the two leads and one great supporting performance from Graham Greene as the reservation’s sheriff. Between the two leads, Olsen wins my vote simply because Renner struggled with his mid-western accent and end up mumbling most of his lines away. Olsen on the other hand, has her character handle the sexism and ageism she receives with an incredible cool head, using only her darting eyes or a tiny sigh as reactions. As for Renner, he takes on the more tragic character, who has lost a daughter in the past, and he makes the most of his emotional scenes with the talent and constraint of few actors today.
As for the finale itself, it’s so satisfying and gripping, that it makes up for the quieter half of the film. In the end, Wind River has to be considered another triumph for Sheridan, while he did stumble a bit by trying out the director’s chair, he is nevertheless one of the great American storytellers of today.