There are few backdrops for a film more immediately beautiful than a never-ending field of snow. Add in some coniferous trees and an empty, cloudless sky, and you have a perfectly breathtaking composition that in the hands of a fine cinematographer can become a recipe for a rare majestic beauty. If you mix in a story that is equally arresting, you will have a true wonder on our hands. To the reader, I present Wind River.
When a young girl is murdered on an Indian Reservation, the native authorities enlist the help of Jeremy Renner, a weary hunter who specializes in finding predators, and Elizabeth Olson, a fresh-faced FBI agent who couldn’t be more out of her element than she is in rural Wyoming. This film is the final entry in Taylor Sheridan’s “American Frontier” trilogy, a series of thematically linked modern westerns that show what the genre can be when updated to a more modern sensibility. While he only wrote the previous two entries, Sicario and Hell or High Water, directed by Denis Villeneuve and David Mackenzie respectively, this is Sheridan’s first foray into the directing field. He takes to the medium very well, creating a film that has all the techniques of modern maverick directors while still having a sort-of “new classic” approach that can be found in films of the nineties that defined filmmakers working today. His product is an interesting one, as it creates a unique blend of linear detective films, intricate character dramas, and “important films.” The latter was what surprised me the most, as this film did not seem a likely candidate for provocative storytelling at first blush, but by the time the film meets its conclusion it’s clear that it has a message that is far more dynamic than what is found on the surface.
Every performance in this film is an absolute knockout. The consistently great Elizabeth Olsen provides a wonderful performance that evokes Jodie Foster as Clarisse Starling in The Silence of the Lambs. She brings that rookie mentality combined with the subtle struggle for respect as a result of being a female in a masculine profession. Jeremy Renner has never been better than he is in Wind River. He provides a performance that is so nuanced and subtle that he disappears into the film in the same way that the snowflakes disappear into the film’s surroundings. Once again providing a phenomenal performance in an ancillary role is Gil Birmingham. You’d probably know him as the Native American guy in like every movie ever made. We get something from him in this movie that is so heartbreaking and emotional it captivates the entire audience despite him only being in a few scenes in the film.
Of course, Wind River’s biggest strength is its script, as Taylor Sheridan’s had one or two goes at this previously. This film is structured like a dream. It does take a few beats to get going, but once the story starts rolling, it doesn’t ever really stop. There are a number of scenes that sneak up on you before becoming something you’d never have really expected from this film. The first two acts are good, but the last act is genuinely excellent. In fact, the ending of this movie is one of the most satisfying we’ve seen in theaters in a while. I’d say there are no real glaring errors that jump off the screen, but in totality, it could probably be tuned up in a few areas just to make it that much better. All in all, though, it’s a terrific film, a fantastic first outing, and a perfect ending to this spiritual trilogy. I really can’t wait to see what Sheridan does next.
All images are from Wind River, a film by The Weinstein Company