Wind River, written and directed by Taylor Sheridan, is a film with a haunting, quiet rage pulsating throughout it. With a vast, chilling landscape, some deeply nuanced characters and a plot that slowly hollows you out; Wind River is a film that makes its way into your bones and leaves you thinking about it, long after the credits have rolled. But what it is specifically about this film that makes it so memorable? I plan to answer that question and explore as much of this film as possible, through my review. So, let’s get to it.
Inspired by true events, the film tells the story of the murder of a young Native American woman in the cold hills of, Wind River, Wyoming and the people tasked with solving the crime. Veteran tracker, Cory Lambert – played by Jeremy Renner – joins forces with reasonably inexperienced FBI agent, Jane Banner – played by Elizabeth Olsen – to find justice for the young girl’s family. However, while both of course want to solve the case, Lambert has motivations that go beyond that and could see him hopefully redeeming a major past mistake that will now forever haunt his life.
In recent years, Taylor Sheridan (the writer and director of this film) has really made his presence known in Hollywood. Writer on both Sicario and Hell or High Water – two films that gained much praise at the Academy Awards; one of which received a best picture nomination and best original screenplay nomination. He is a writer who takes on multifaceted characters; people who can’t be put into a particular grouping and defined with a particular characteristic. Nearly every character in Hell or High Water is proof of that. So, when I learned that he was not only writing a new film but directing it as well; you can imagine how eager I was to check it out. Especially because Hell or High Water was one of my favourite films of 2016 (you can click this link to see my full list of favourite films from 2016, if you’re interested).
Taylor Sheridan delivered on and surpassed upon what I was hoping for/expecting in Wind River. At its forefront is a deeply nuanced character in, Cory Lambert. A hard-working man who is trusted and respected by the community he helps serve. But he is also deeply troubled by a past mistake that resulted in the death of his daughter. This mistake haunts him and because of it there is something dark within Cory that makes him someone you fear to cross, as you don’t know what type of explosive reaction might inadvertently burst from him. As you can imagine, that makes for a very interesting character to follow and watch.
What makes it even better is that the is without a doubt a career best performance from Jeremy Renner. He embodies the quiet, trustworthy nature of Cory and he also has within him a hidden anger and regret that forever eats away at him. Renner does a brilliant job of making this all a part of his performance. You can see it within his eyes; you can hear it when he speaks. It’s so very subtle but it is there and it is outstandingly well done by Renner.
Alongside him is Elizabeth Olsen (Jane Banner). This is an interesting situation because her character is more straight forward, thus so is her performance (for the most part). But in terms of Jane Banner, it is less about the history of her character and more about the dynamic that she brings to the overall film. Her inexperience and her fear to get pulled into unpredictable situations makes her a great counterpoint to Cory Lambert; a man you trust with anything, as you know he’ll get the job done, no matter the risk.
This dynamic is one of the strongest elements of the film and one of the most giving, in terms of content to sink your teeth into. Both actors play off of one another really well (I’m sure it helped that they’ve both worked together in the Marvel films, more than once, and so have a familiarity with one another) and they find a rhythm with the characters that becomes the main driving force of the film (behind the plot of course, which I’ll touch upon in a moment).
Writer, Director, Taylor Sheridan finds the unique voices of these characters; he finds the motivations within them that drive them and then he bounces the two very different characters off of one another. They become an unlikely duo who you connect too. And by the end, I was attached to both characters fully, and above everything else in the film, they had become my focal point.
I think much of that has to do with the handling of said characters. They feel like more than just characters in a murder-mystery plot. They feel like their own people with lives far beyond the story. Even though we don’t learn or see much of Jane Banner’s life, she still feels like a well fleshed out person – or at least, she certainly became one over the course of the film. And I feel nothing backs that up more than her final scene in the film, which I think shows not only the journey the character has taken throughout the film but it also then goes onto define who she will become beyond the story of the film.
And both the characters and the greater story (which are of course intertwined) are fleshed out thorough the great writing my Taylor Sheridan. He has very natural way of writing dialogue for characters. He not only makes them feel like individuals with their particular cadences, but he is also then really good at slipping in information that furthers the plot. It makes from a more real feeling experience. Characters talk to one another like ordinary people and developments in the investigation are communicated in a way that makes sense in the context of the situation. It’s one of the many reasons why I appreciate Sheridan’s way of writing, and why I think he continues to get the praise that he deserves.
I could happily go in dissecting the two lead characters and the facets that went into forming them, but I want to take some time to touch upon the plot of the film, because… well you know, it’s pretty important element of the film. Shifting away from the complexities of the characters in the film, Wind River is surprisingly simple in the plot it sets up and delivers. A young girl has been sexually assaulted and left to die in the middle of nowhere (that’s your set up). Now it falls to Jane Banner, Cory Lambert and a few others to figure out who did it and bring them to justice (that’s what you are then delivered). It never really goes beyond that, like I said its very simple to wrap your head around.
Now, in some ways the plot is brilliantly handled, but in one primary way, it wasn’t handled in the way I was expecting. When I look at the film as a whole, the plot did what it needed to do: It brought you into the world of Wind River, Wyoming and put you on the path to learning and exploring the varied and interesting selection of people who live there. It’s clear that characters were the primary focus of the film and the plot was an avenue to explore them (which trust me, I’m more than happy with. I’m first and foremost a character person).
It’s just that I felt the murder-mystery part of the film never got the chance to become what it fully could have been. Just as the investigation gets going and Lambert is using his years of experience to track down the murderer, the film begins to wrap up the plot. It feels all too sudden to go from investigating to then finding the place where the horrific incident took place. It never felt like the plot fully got to breathe and expand. I feel the film could have done with an extra 20-25 minutes added to its runtime so that some more space could have been given to it, but alas no.
Don’t get me wrong though, the plot is still gripping and without it there are no characters who utterly fascinate and have you fully engrossed in who they are. And it’s not like the conclusion to what happened to the young girl and who did it isn’t satisfying in its handling, because it absolutely is. I just would have liked more. Which if you think about it, is a compliment to how much I loved this film and how much more of it I wanted. But perhaps I’m being greedy. It was already so giving with its brilliant characters; its stunning vistas and an atmosphere that just stayed with me and unsettled me.
Wind River is a film that slowly but surely pulls you in. It shocks you with some upsetting imagery and it thrusts upon you some true human heartache. But it does it all in a way that feels worthy of the experience. I left the cinema loving the film I had watched but also troubled by the things I had seen and learned. It is a film that insists you think about it, long after you have gone on with your day.
I am certainly going to recommend Wind River. I’m concerned this film is going to get buried by the horror juggernaut that is, IT. I don’t want that to happen, so please get out there and support this brilliant film – it deserves to be seen!
I’d love to know what you thought of the film and my review. So please leave any opinions or feedback in the comments section down below. I’d also really appreciate it if you could follow my blog and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings – as it will help to grow them both. If not, that’s totally fine, I’ll simply finish up by thanking you and hoping that you have a wonderful day.