Few films this year have evoked an atmosphere as menacing as Taylor Sheridan’s directorial debut, “Wind River.”
The plot centers around professional game hunter Corey Lambert, played by Jeremy Renner, who attempts to solve the murder of a Native American woman from the Wind River Indian Reservation in snow-covered Wyoming. To assist in the investigation, the tribal police chief calls in a rookie FBI agent from Las Vegas named Jane Banner, played by Elizabeth Olsen, who quickly finds herself intimidated by the remote setting.
While Sheridan— who previously wrote the screenplay for 2014’s “Sicario” among others— provides a riveting mystery with “Wind River,” the film primarily focuses on the socio-political conflicts within the poverty-stricken setting.
Renner gives a natural, convincing performance, and Olsen is also excellent. Gil Birmingham gives a heartbreaking performance as the father of the murdered woman.
Sheridan’s script features a matter-of-factness, with occasional moments of humor akin to his writing in last year’s “Hell or High Water,” which underscores the oppressive atmosphere and the raw emotion of the characters. There’s not a wasted line of dialogue. The film approaches several powerful subjects such as grief, regret and revenge with emotionally resonant and hard-hitting realism.
Utilizing a mixture of wide-angle and claustrophobic camera work, the rugged cinematography evokes a documentary-esque quality that separates it from other films of its nature. The soundtrack, which has a haunting, hypnotic quality, instills a sense of uneasiness and tension throughout the film.
Sheridan’s mastery of character development and suspense amplifies the disturbing violence to uncomfortable levels. The shootouts and brutality of “Wind River” are presented in a grisly, startling way. While certain sections of the film share similarities with Quentin Tarantino’s films in terms of suspense, Sheridan doesn’t use violence for dark comedy. He makes the violence as uncompromising as the setting.
“Wind River” is one of the best films of the year so far, an emotionally powerful film that features relevant social commentary about the injustices committed against Native Americans in contemporary society.