Wind River (2017) (Review)

Wind River is a crime-thriller playing out against a chilly backdrop. An amalgamation of Nocturnal Animals, Prisoners and The Grey tonally, tinged with A Lonely Place To Die for good measure, the Taylor Sheridan written and directed piece has been making waves this summer. After premiering at Sundance, Wind River has received the privilege of being the one-and-only in the Hollywood landscape and, with a plethora of positive reviews and reception following its stateside debut, will arrive on UK soil next Friday.

On the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, Fish and Wildlife Service agent Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) discovers the frozen-solid body of Natalie Hanson, an 18-year old resident of the reservation. Rookie FBI special agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is assigned to the case and determines that a murder has transpired and must be investigated. In a particularly harsh environment, with even harsher circumstances, Lambert is taken on by Banner to help investigate the murder and catch the killer before he or she strikes again, throwing the entire community into turmoil as each and every one is scrutinised regarding their involvement.

On the back of his award season success with Hell or High Water (it earned an impressive four nominations, including a Best Picture nod) and the acclaim of 2015's Sicario, Sheridan returns to write and direct his latest project, a character-driven murder mystery with a bitter chill. Wyoming provides the setting for Wind River, a brutal and unforgiving picture that rings out a lot of intensity across its 111 minute runtime. The way Sheridan explores the location is paramount to its success and emphasises the themes of isolation and harshness perfectly.

Sheridan's script is deeply-rooted in its characters, as well as the (obviously) important, central crime: at the same time as giving our lead investigation agents backstories and depth, the story's victim and her family are developed with great insight into their pain and suffering. It examines a broken family unit and where they go next, evoked further through thoughtful theme work; race and heritage is considered without ever feeling exploitative, offering a refreshing representation of Native American people rarely seen in cinema - or on screens in general. You genuinely care for these characters because time has been invested in their story and it pays off wonderfully; for example, when we see the harrowing trauma the victim experiences, you don't know whether to cry or scream - I did both - and that is a testament to Sheridan's writing, characters and the performances.

Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen re-assemble following their multiple Avengers appearances in this gritty crime-drama, both delivering an unconventional but strong performance in their respective roles. Renner carries a confidence perfectly suited to Olsen's naivety in her new-ish job, crafting a wonderful dynamic that the film and actors are willing to explore. There is a clear attraction between the two but the script prevents placing too much of an emphasis on the will they/won't they back and forth, presenting it subtly enough to simply texture each character, rather than wholly define them. Olsen and Renner are two very often overlooked actors in Hollywood - but here they prove their talent with two of the more memorable characters of their filmographies.

Violence is a key to Wind River, conjuring a brutal and unforgiving tone that may be too much for some people. Sheridan does not hold back with harsh depictions and headshots, with the red blood striking a powerful contrast against the white, snowy backdrop, making it a visually sharp piece. It is demonstrated with some restriction though which allows it to remain chilling and powerful still, as only very rarely does the film cross into unnecessarily violent territory. This, again, comes down to Sheridan's confidence and skill as a director and his decision to ensure every image has an emotional power and meaning behind it.

All of this is capped off by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis' raw and hypnotic soundtrack. It succeeds tremendously well in enhancing the atmosphere that looms so heavy over the piece, effectively drawing out and evoking the bitter air Wind River masters. It's a diverse selection of tracks excellently scoring pivotal and more personal moments alike.

Wind River doesn't flow as seamlessly as hoped though. It's rather uneven in places, shuffling tones a little sloppily and interrupting the intensity on a handful of occasions. It doesn't hinder the pace all too much but it is clear that a tightening in places could have provided a cleaner, more solid film. My qualms with Wind River aren't massive and the film recovers from them rather easily, mainly due to Sheridan's confident directorial style and writing, alongside the performances and score but they do let it down slightly.

Wind River is powerful, chilling film-making with a message. Its diverse representations and consideration of heavy themes deliver audiences a bite that you may not expect from a film released outside your usual award season friendly window. It is brutal and unforgiving film-making but somehow still eloquent and sophisticated, proving once again that Taylor Sheridan is one of Hollywood's most consistent talents. Alongside the impressive performances and musicians, Sheridan makes an original, masterful piece of mystery crime-drama that, even with minor flaws, comes highly recommended.


Summary: Wind River is a brutal, unforgiving and impressive thriller with fantastic performances, a confident writer-director and gripping story at the centre. In equal parts shocking and soulful, it sinks its claws in early on with an atmospheric, intelligent piece of film-making.