****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****
My Rating : 4.5 out of 5 stars
My Recommendation : SEE IT IN THE THEATRE. This is a top-notch film that works on multiple levels and should not be missed.
Wind River, written and directed by Taylor Sheridan, is the story of Cory Lambert, a tracker/hunter with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, who teams up with FBI agent Jane Banner to solve a murder on the Wind River Indian reservation in Wyoming. The film stars Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen, with supporting turns from Graham Greene and Gil Birmingham.
The first thing to know about Wind River is that it is not an art house film, well...not really. Writer/director Taylor Sheridan writes mainstream types of stories, about the drug war in Sicario (2015), or bank robbers in Hell or High Water (2016) and now a murder mystery with Wind River, but Sheridan is so skilled and gifted as a writer he is able to infuse these well-worn narratives with such originality, insight and intelligence that they are elevated from the mundane to the sublime.
Taylor Sheridan is unquestionably the best writer working in Hollywood today (proof of this being he has two nominations and one win for the most prestigious award on the planet…The Mickey©®!!). His previous screenplays, Sicario and Hell or High Water, were exquisite masterpieces. The script for Wind River certainly lives up to his stellar earlier work.
Wind River is Taylor Sheridan's first time directing a major feature film. His direction is unspectacular but noteworthy for being both proficient and efficient. Sheridan keeps the pacing taut but never rushed, and allows his scenes and his actors some breathing room in the vast expanse of the Wyoming wilderness.
As screenwriter, Sheridan is a physician who keeps properly diagnosing the disease eating away at the core of America in general, and the American Man in particular. Sheridan's characters are not verbose, but they speak volumes about the wounded state of masculinity in this country. While on the surface Wind River is a murder mystery in Big Sky country, it is considerably more than that. Wind River is a meditation on grief and the current state of Man. The film reveals the festering toxicity of damaged masculinity that is contagion in America, and that infects and destroys everything it touches (look no further than the current occupant of the White House for proof of this). Sheridan has written about the world of men effectively in both Sicario and Hell or High Water, and he does so again in Wind River. The murder-mystery story is well-executed and intriguing, but for me the most compelling part of the film is Sheridan's sub-text dealing with the debilitating state of modern manhood and the crippling effect of grief.
Jeremy Renner plays hunter/tracker Cory Lambert and delivers the best performance of his career. Renner's work is well crafted, meticulous, detailed and is most definitely Oscar worthy. Renner's Lambert is a reserved and laconic man, but the anguish and fury contained within him is palpable. The scenes between Renner and Gil Birmingham's Martin Hanson contain some of the most subtle and layered acting on film this year. The scene between the two men on the front porch of Martin Hanson's home is a wrenching one, where the pain that pulses through these men's souls reveals itself out of the abyss of their heartbreak. It is a startlingly fantastic scene that would have been ordinary in the hands of lesser actors.
Elizabeth Olsen does terrific work as well as fish out of water FBI agent Jane Banner. Olsen's Banner is in over her head, but she has the smarts and guile to keep herself together, until she doesn't. Her scene with Renner towards the end of the film highlights her skillful, subtle and wonderfully effective work in the film. Olsen is an often overlooked actress, but she is a potent talent who just needs the right script to shine, thankfully she gets one with Wind River.
The supporting actors, particularly Graham Greene, as a local Indian police chief, and the previously mentioned Gil Birmingham as Martin Hanson, are fantastic. They are two characters used to the bleak existence of life on the reservation, and their existential grief and angst hang over them like storm clouds.
Another actor who has a very minimal but pivotal role is Jon Bernthal, and his work is exceptional. With minimal screen time and dialogue, Bernthal is able to create a fully formed and multi-dimensional character that is unique but familiar. Bernthal's work is vital to the film, and he shows himself to be a really strong actor capable of doing a lot with a little.
Cinematographer Ben Richardson makes the most of the glorious setting and delivers crisp visuals highlighting the contrasting colors of the wintery mountains. Richardson's striking visuals combined with Nick Cave and Warren Ellis' soundtrack make for a mesmerizing film going experience.
As someone who has felt the biting sting of grief, Wind River resonated deeply with me. As someone with an intimate connection to the Native American community, my kindred relationship to the film was further enhanced by Sheridan's respectful but brutally honest assessment of the state of Indian life in America that was both depressing and infuriating. The fact that Native American women are the only group of people in the United States for whom they do not keep statistics regarding missing persons is one of the more incredible statistics you can find…or not find in this case. It is also all the evidence you need to understand that Native people in America have been dehumanized for centuries by many Americans and the U.S. government, and continue to be to this day.
In conclusion, Wind River is a terrific film that boasts an Oscar worthy performance by Jeremy Renner and and equally impressive script from Taylor Sheridan. Wind River was very captivating but at times difficult to watch, but regardless of how emotionally wrenching the film could be, it was always honest and insightful about humanity and the malevolent world we inhabit. I highly recommend you spend your hard earned money and go see Wind River in the theaters. The lessons it imparts are ones we all desperately need to learn.