Intrigue, murder and a whole lot of snowmobiling run amok in Taylor Sheridan’s latest film Wind River starring Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen. This ended up being one of those films with a very interesting trailer and a limited engagement meaning there was a good chance that it would not make its way to Fredericton. Indeed, the film was supposed to open in early August but thankfully due to the month of August being such a crapshoot for new releases and financial success, the city of Fredericton finally nabbed this indie film for an early September release.
Wind River comes to us from acclaimed screenwriter Taylor Sheridan and is only his second directorial effort of his career thus far. The plot concerns the murder of Natalie (Kelsey Asbille), a young Native American woman, as she is found in the middle of snowy Wisconsin having froze to death. Young FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) arrives to investigate the crime aided by master game tracker Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), who also has his own selfish reasons for wanting to find the people responsible for this horrific crime.
Sheridan has a real hit on his hands. From a guy who has penned truly excellent screenplays for Hell or High Water and Sicario (as well as this movie), he has yet another trophy to add to his mantle. Not only is the dialogue very well-written and subtle with touches of nuance but the writing of the film itself is equally brilliant. There are no cop-outs in the movie. Things progress naturally and there are not a lot of last-minute ‘gotcha’ twists that exist solely to surprise the viewer. Sheridan also created some fully-realized side characters as well that are quite interesting to watch. From the victim’s grieving father to the chief of police, no one is left out in the dark.
The film succeeds at the quiet moments particularly well which is probably made even better by the accompanying scenes of sudden violence (sometimes to an extreme level). The setting of snowy Wisconsin is also an excellent way to focus on the isolation of the film and have the tension ramped up during the many tense moments that take place. During a great deal of those tense moments, there isn’t even the threat of violence but rather sometimes it’s just the reality of the situation floating above everyone’s heads. For instance, in an emotionally powerful scene between Cory and Martin (the father of the deceased), we see that grief is slowly over-powering him in a way that is almost devoid of dialogue and it appears to cripple his gruff exterior. It is tense and sad as the viewer is never quite sure how far this sorrow will take him.
The director has surrounded himself with some great acting talent. Jeremy Renner is a very capable lead and perfect for these kind of roles where he must contain a quiet intensity while still maintaining a certain level of charm. His chemistry with Elizabeth Olsen is palpable, especially with their history of starring in Marvel movies together. Thankfully, the film doesn’t go any further with that and it doesn’t turn into an awkward romance rather than a partnership. Joining them is Graham Greene, who almost steals the movie with his dry wit and no-nonsense attitude. Greene is a seasoned First Nations actor who has been in a ton of movies and TV shows so he’s always a great hand to have around like this. Gil Birmingham plays the father of the murder victim in question and as I mentioned earlier, he has some terrific scenes with Renner in particular.
It’s entertaining, moving, tense and never conventional, Wind River combines all the best elements of filmmaking to create a wonderful new film flying just under the radar. Check it out while you can.
RATING: **** ½
Less than * (Actively offensive to one’s intelligence)
* (Brutal; bottom-of-the-barrel)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)