“Wind River”: A Millennial’s Movie Review
Where the Hawk Meets the Witch
Wind River is a crime/thriller written and directed by Taylor Sheridan, best known for writing the Oscar-nominated Sicario and Hell or High Water. The film stars Jeremy Renner as a hunter named Cory Lambert, who discovers a murdered Native American girl on the Wind River Indian Reservation. After reporting the crime, an FBI agent named Jane Banner (played by Elizabeth Olsen) is sent to investigate the murder and bring the culprit to justice. Faced with a daunting and unfamiliar task of finding clues in the snowstorms of Wyoming, Jane asks for the help of Cory’s tracking expertise, and the two set out into the wilderness to solve this mystery.
The final instalment of writer/director Taylor Sheridan’s American Frontier trilogy, Wind River is the first of the three to be directed by the Oscar-nominated writer. With his undisputed writing ability and a talented cast which also includes Jon Bernthal and a host of Native American actors, Wind River is has a lot going for it, following in the footsteps of its thematic predecessors. After nabbing multiple wins at the Cannes film festival, the film has also generated some early Oscar buzz, the effects of which will only become clear in the months after the writing of this article. Can Wind River harness the gale force to its advantage, or will it be drowned in the current of the upcoming films when awards season goes into full swing?
Packed with rich characterisation, atmospheric beauty and several heart-wrenching scenes, Wind River is an incredibly all-rounded film which can satisfy the needs of any thriller junkie out there, as well as moviegoers who just want to sit down and watch a serious, well-written and well-executed crime film. The film’s quiet but dark and dangerous tone is reminiscent of the Alaskan isolation from Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia. While the film’s plot is relatively simple, it yields short bursts of adrenaline and never feels over-exaggerated, even in moments of high tension, a testament to how much the writing and directing choices elevate the film.
It’s easy to say that the cast did a remarkable job with embodying their characters, but a lot of the nuance and emotion comes from the lines they’ve been given to say as well as the things they’re given to do, which is why it seems like I’m giving so much praise to the screenwriter. Jeremy Renner is a great actor and here he puts in another solid shift, though in truth it’s hard to discern anything remarkable about what he added to the role. Elisabeth Olsen is also good as a fish-out-of-water FBI agent who struggles to move her investigation forward in such a remote environment. Cory’s compelling backstory makes him a very engaging character, as we are made to sympathise with him once we discover his motivations for helping Jane. In addition, the supporting actor Gil Birmingham, who plays the murder victim’s father, stole every scene he was in, as his brave attempt at coping with his daughter’s death is beautifully horrific to watch.
Something must also be said about the structure of Wind River, which smartly separates slower-paced character scenes with intense action sequences, ensuring the audience is on the edge of their seats one minute, then taking a breather and learning more about the characters the next. Wise editing and, in particular, some well-used match cuts ensure smooth transitions from one shot to the next. Even when the film takes a big detour and suddenly flashes back in the film’s third act, it feels organic and doesn’t drop the ball in terms of tension and interest.
Gone with the Snow
Wind River has few flaws, but one of them would be the character development of Elisabeth Olsen’s Jane Banner, who doesn’t have much of a backstory, instead showing us who she is through her dialogue and actions. This is a more powerful technique as opposed to plain expositional dialogue, but this alone didn’t make her character as compelling as Jeremy Renner’s Cory, who shows AND tells us about who he is and what he’s been through. Granted, Cory is really the protagonist of the film, but the film could have spent a minute or two longer focussing on Jane. The film can also be a slow burn at times, which is not the best thing to have when you want huge audiences to see it, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here, and the film never feels as if it’s meandering.
Wind River didn’t blow my socks off, but it is a fine film about redemption, opportunity and fighting one’s demons. It makes some brief commentary about the treatment of Native Americans today, though in retrospect it might have benefited from an extra few minutes on the subject. Wind River caps off a very well-written trilogy of films, while Taylor Sheridan continues to impress, exciting us to think of the many films he has yet to write in the future.
Overall Score: 7.7/10