Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River: Three Seasons In Wyoming

When wildlife officer Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) finds the body of an eighteen year-old Native American woman on a Native American reservation in the snow-filled lands of Wyoming, an investigation ensues. The autopsy report shows that she was raped, so FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) arrives from Las Vegas to investigate. Partnering up with Lambert as her guide through the treacherous terrain, she soon find that their lives are in danger whilst trying to find the guilty party and bring them to justice. However, the case becomes more than that, as Cory sees it as a route to redemption of an earlier part of his life which ended in trauma, torment and tragedy.

Written and directed by Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water), he is really making a name for himself. Having only directed a horror film (Vile) before, directing is new to him and he does not disappoint with Wind River. Coming off the back of his two previous projects Sicario and Hell or HIgh Water, his latest endeavour Wind River might be my favourite so far. Though, he didn’t direct Sicario (Denis Villeneuve) or Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie). However, Sheridan is showing his uniqueness in terms of his writing skills as each project he commits to only improves on the previous one and that’s not taking anything way from his last two films, as they were fantastic.

Hawkeye and Scarlett Witch reunite but trade airport showdowns and dropping cities for winter and snow
(Wind River, The Weinstein Company)

Not really on film, but the crime genre has been one of my favourite genres of television for years. Though, Wind River has turned by eye to crime on the big screen. Nonetheless, this film is more than a standard crime drama. It poses interesting philosophical questions, especially ones on life. It takes us to the chilly environment of Wyoming on the Wind River Indian Reservation. It’s dark (but white), harsh, dangerous and it could kill you if you don’t keep your wits about you. The story takes its time but when the action takes happens, they really make it count. It’s well-timed and well-executed but the action is second fiddle to the more important questions about missing persons.

Jeremy Renner (Avengers) plays Cory Lambert, a broken man with a past of grief and heartbreak. Elizabeth Olsen (Age of Ultron) plays FBI Agent Banner, a woman who is out of place in the rough environments of Wyoming. The two end up working together to better their chances of solving the case. In addition, Renner and Olsen both have history together from the Marvel films and they bring that dynamic to Wind River and it’s mighty fine at that. And by the end of the film, you’re rooting for both of these characters to come out on top (despite their flaws). From the get go, I was in love with both of these characters and by the closing credits I just wanted to give Cory a hug.

To me Wind River very much felt like a mishmash of the Coens’ Fargo and Marvel’s Jessica Jones
(Wind River, The Weinstein Company)

Sometimes murder mystery; sometimes suspense thriller; sometimes family drama; and very much a neo-western, Wind River shows me why Taylor Sheridan is one of my favourite writers working today. Despite it running for less than two hours, this film felt to be longer than it was. And that’s not a critical jibe. It felt big in the same fashion as The Treasure of the Sierre Madre or The African Queen but not in the epic sense of Spartacus (1960) The Lord of the Rings or Dr Zhivago. It was big in the way the story is told and in the ground covered by our characters, as well as the beautiful panoramic scenery shots showing the vast powdered landscapes of the Wind River Reservation.

Taylor Sheridan has discussed Native American themes before, but with Wind River it’s less preachy and more inclusive with the fabric of the community where we sense a tension between the locals and foreigners. A good comparison would be be in Starz’ Outlander when the likes of Dougal Mackenzie suspects Claire of being an English spy. Jamie calls her “sassenach” meaning English or simply outlander. Just the idea of someone being an outsider is cause enough to not trust them. In Wind River, clashes between whites and natives arise which bring a number of culturally-motivated suspicions. Let’s not forget to mention the fact of state jurisdiction in the US.

I loved Renner’s scenes with Gil Birmingham, who played the father of the deceased victim
(Wind River, The Weinstein Company)

Wind River is a complex and intelligently written and directed thriller which starts as a classic “whodunnit” case but transforms into a quest for revenge. And the choice to set this film in Wyoming in the brutal cold just adds to the chilling aura of what is my favourite film of the year so far.

Unsettling, tragic and brilliant: Wind River is one to watch out for once winter arrives, as that’s when the awards race really gets its skates on