Film Review: Wind River

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 15 Sep 2017

Wind River is the final part of what director Taylor Sheridan has called his “frontier trilogy”, which began with Sicario and continued with Hell or High Water. Although Sheridan wrote all three films, it’s the first he has directed, and his first directorial credit since a little-seen horror called Vile in 2011.

Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen star as Cory Lambert and Jane Banner, who become unlikely partners in a crime investigation. She works for the FBI and has been summoned to freezing Wyoming to run an investigation into a body that Cory discovered in the snow. Cory is a hunter/tracker and proves useful in assisting Jane who, while competent as an investigator, is not used to the extreme wintry conditions in the area.

The body is discovered on an Indian reservation – the titular Wind River – which causes jurisdictional issues for the investigation, while the harsh nature of the landscape becomes a driving factor in the narrative. Wind River is home to many disenchanted people, for whom the difficulties presented by the environment have either broken their spirits, or made them cynical. The world-weary inhabitants of the area, combined with the excellent sense of place established by Sheridan and his cinematographer, Ben Richardson, lift some of the film’s more generic elements into thoroughly watchable territory.

It also helps that Renner gives one his strongest performances to date as Cory, who clearly has an attachment to the area, but is nevertheless challenged by the toughness of the environment, which has not been altogether kind to him. Opposite him, Olsen is reliably strong as Jane, who despite playing more of a supporting role than we might initially expect, adds both vulnerability and strength to proceedings, albeit in different ways to Renner.

The film has a gritty edge to it, as we might expect from this loose trilogy, and is adept at establishing a scenario in which the vastness of the landscape serves to heighten the events being depicted. There are visual compositions that at times reminded me of the establishing shots in Sicario, and some of the recurring motifs in the soundtrack called to mind the whispered poetics of Andrew Dominik’s excellent WesternThe Proposition.

As things unfold and we being to learn where the narrative is going, it’s perhaps a little disappointingly straightforward, and the final movement of the film feels a little less sure of itself than the rest, but the interest is held throughout, and the film doesn’t lose sight of the characters at its heart. There’s one late scene on top of a mountain that is a little too broadly played, but in general the film conveys a sense of realism and believability. There’s also an almighty Mexican standoff in the final act that is beautifully choreographed.

Wind River is a compelling watch, with a strong sense of place, convincing performances and a welcome, if subtle, undercurrent o f political awareness. It’s not perfect, and perhaps a little generic at times, but well worth a watch, particularly if you enjoyed Sicario and Hell or High Water.

4/5

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