REVIEW – “Wind River” Flows and Ebbs with a Balanced Mix of Pain and Tension
by Joe Hammerschmidt
I am naturally impressed by Taylor Sheridan’s track record, now Hollywood’s latest “everyman.” Cutting his teeth first as a working actor, most notably with a recurring role on Sons of Anarchy, then blowing many out of the water with his debut screenplay, 2015’s Sicario, then showing a pleasing folksyness last year with his Oscar-nominated script for Hell or High Water. Now Sheridan completes the circle with the arrival of Wind River, his second directorial effort, though the first the average moviegoer will likely notice. And judging from both subject matter, and a strong chemistry between its two leads, chances are it will be difficult not to ignore the natural intensity Sheridan is striving for; make no mistake, this is a quality thriller, regardless of what it does to overstay its welcome on screen.
What starts as a mysterious body found in the cold Wyoming wilderness, evolves into a scandalous rape/homicide case, as Fish and Wildlife agent and game tracker Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) consistently butts heads with FBI rookie Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) to solve the case presented to them, to solve the murder and make good with the relatives who, as it turns out have small familial ties with the investigators. The victim, Natalie (Kelsey Chow) was a friend to Cory’s own daughter, who had died under a similar mysterious circumstance years prior. To make matters worse, given this case does preside within the boundaries of the Wind River reservation, tribal police are automatically involved, further complicating the investigation more than necessary, but mirroring Cory’s own failure in solving the initial mystery before and what could be easily done to find closure.
On the surface, Wind River is a strong, snappy crime tale. Yet the deeper the story goes, safe to say there’s more in play, mostly along the lines of revenge and deceit, to wit it all intertwines against each other seamlessly. Much like Hell or High Water before it, Sheridan relies on a heap of familiarity, and a pound of guilt to drive the momentum forward, the two colliding for a sour-tasting dramatic blend. His writing style conveys the real importance of a unified front, even if his leads are hardened criminals. Good or bad, there’s still reason to stay on equal terms.
The chemistry shared between Olsen and Renner (both MCU alums) is pure, strictly platonic, and above all believable. Neither can’t solve this mystery without the other, that’s the refreshing part. A veteran in his field teaching an up-and-comer, easily the biggest smile moment. Simultaneously, there are Natalie’s parents (Gil Birmingham and Althea Sam), to whom Cory is reporting to on a regular basis. Both dads essentially bare their souls to each other in a wash of grief; neither of them ever see eye to eye, but they’re still willing to work together to find a particular solace that works to both their advantages. Keep a close eye open for Jon Bernthal to pop up somewhere in a crucial role, even if I didn’t quite understand his presence at all.
Aside from the spot-on casting decisions, the natural beauty shown throughout is the best mark of quality Sheridan finds, alongside DoP Ben Richardson. I don’t expect another movie to come along soon that can make western-esque showdown scenes; heck any moment outside in a scenic mountain range look so dramatic and heavy-hitting, capturing the rawness in everyone’s faces, it almost hurts to watch.
That inadvertently ties back in to the central theme, which is reinforced at the very tail-end, that for all missing persons cases in the country, Native American women are among the least reported; a reminder that the truth hurts better than just not knowing. Wind River is meant to inflict a small dose of emotional pain, and Sheridan is the right person to expose the hurt, find that peace, and deliver an intense. I don’t anticipate it can say much for the future of the western genre (High Water will speak higher volumes on that end), and it’s also not quite a conventional thriller, yet it still aims to attack or confront the soul, and remind viewers to always be vigilent, for the sake of others. Through Sheridan’s words, and a capable core group of actors bravest enough to bring those words to life, the soul can build the right tolerance, then heal just a little faster. Let this trip into the darkest and coldest of created worlds be a bright path in. (B+)
Wind River is currently playing at Regal Meridian 16, Cinemark Lincoln Square, AMC Alderwood Mall; additional theaters to follow in the coming weeks; rated R for strong violence, a rape, disturbing images, and language; 107 minutes.