Review | "Wind River"

Oscar-nominated screenwriter, Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water), steps behind the camera to direct one of his own scripts for the first time for Wind River; a murder mystery set on the Wind River Indian Reservation in the desolate, snow-covered plains of Wyoming. His only other directing credit was the critically maligned 2011 horror film, Vile, but if Hell or High Water proved anything, it's that the man can write. While Wind River isn't quite the film the Hell or High Water is, there's still a strong sense of purpose and place, of the hard boiled inevitability of violence in a place that has fallen through the cracks of society at large.

Jeremy Renner stars as Cory Lambert, a hunter with a haunted past who finds the body of a young woman in the middle of the frozen wastelands. Ill-equipped to handle a murder investigation, the tribal police calls in the FBI, who sends a rookie agent named Jane Banner to handle the case. When it becomes clear that they will be receiving no outside help, Jane asks Cory to help her track down the men who raped the young woman and left her to die, leading them both into the dark underbelly of a town that has been left to die every bit as much as their frozen murder victim.

Sheridan establishes an atmosphere of isolation right from the outset, and the film is anchored by strong performances by Renner and Olsen. There are a few moments that seem to betray Sheridan's relative inexperience behind the camera - a major dialogue scene is shot by a stationary handheld camera, resulting in a distracting lack of focus rather than the intended feeling of authenticity. And the film's postscript, informing us that there is no database for missing Native American women, is undercut by the fact that the film isn't really about that. So the film never quite earns the gravitas that it seeks, but as a tough-as-nails police procedural, it works. Wind River is an often gripping murder mystery that aims to be a deeper exploration of the plight of those on society's fringes (not unlike Hell or High Water). While it never quite matches its own ambitions, Sheridan still manages to deliver a crackerjack mystery that relies on characters rather than twists, turns, or shocks.

GRADE - ★★★ (out of four)

WIND RIVER | Directed by Taylor Sheridan | Stars Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Graham Greene, Gil Birmingham, John Bernthal | Rated R for strong violence, a rape, disturbing images, and language | Now playing in theaters everywhere.


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