Wind River Review

Wind River (2017) Movie Review by John Walsh

Wind River

Director: Taylor Sheridan
Writer: Taylor Sheridan
Stars: Kelsey Asbille, Jeremy Renner, Julia Jones, Elizabeth Olsen

Wind River is a film I’ve been looking forward to seeing for a number of months. In theory, a neo-western with some thriller/mystery thrown in is right up my street. Taylor Sheridan, the man responsible for Sicario and Hell or High Water’s great scripts, had written it and that probably played a large part in my anticipation. His writing talents are still undeniable, but he’s no Denis Villenueve (Sicario) in the directors chair. That’s not a scathing criticism as such because there’s not many who are.

In terms of story, it focuses on Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) for the most part. He’s a U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent (a fancy term for a hunter/scout) who’s out tracking a livestock mauling lion and its cubs for his in-laws when he finds the frozen body of Natalie Henson (Kelsey Chow); a young, eighteen year old woman. Now, gruesome as it is, that in itself wouldn’t be so mysterious. Until you factor in that she’s discovered six miles from the nearest settlement, without proper gear (it’s Wyoming in the winter), barefoot, bloodied and seemingly having been raped.

The investigation into the murder begins in earnest when FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olson), an inexperienced rookie based in Las Vegas, is sent out to determine whether the case is a homicide. She quickly finds herself completely unprepared for the wintery conditions she encounters or even able to make her way around the vast mountainous area (how did she become a special agent?), which leads to her enlisting Cory for his scouting skills and extensive knowledge of the land. And off they go, through an autopsy, on many a beautifully shot snow speeder journey, a tense shootout and a raid on a drug den, slowly uncovering the details of what happened. Emphasis on slowly.

Jeremy Renner is a fine actor and one that I really admire. He was fantastic in last years Arrival and he’s every bit as good in Wind River. It’s very much his film, the plot revolves around Cory, and of course, when it comes to finally apprehending the killer it’s him that grabs the bull by the horns. Cory is something of a tragic figure and the personal tragedy revealed in the middle of the film adds a degree of poignancy to his arc, that along with the personal connection to Natalie’s family, fuels his desire to see revenge meted out.

I was incredibly disappointed with Elizabeth Olson’s role in this film. I expected her to be the Josh Brolin or Del Toro from Sicario, the Ben Foster or Jeff Bridges from Hell or High Water. I.e. A meaty supporting role that was in someway meaningful. Sadly though, in terms of story or a meaningful role, she had neither, very little to work with and was largely portrayed as something of an incompetent irrelevance. A point only underlined by the ending when she’s manoeuvred out the way.

Gil Birmingham had little more than an extended cameo, but managed to put plenty of emotion into the few scenes he had and I felt genuine sadness for the characters loss. A loss further exacerbated by his only son turning to drugs. I’ll mention Bernthal purely because he’s the man and kicked the shit out of three or four guys single handedly, but it was the briefest of cameos.

So what exactly led to my earlier negative appraisal of Sheridan’s directing? Firstly, I felt that the pacing was out, especially in the first half and it took far too long to find and apprehend those responsible for what was a brutal murder. The reveal of the killer and what actually happened felt rushed, came in the final half hour and justice wasn’t served until practically the final scene. I did enjoy the scene nonetheless. Thematically, it definitely had a similar vibe going on to Hell or High Water with its frankly brutal analysis of modern U.S. life, this time focusing on an Indian reservation, but the decision to delve into that for the first hour or so definitely had an adverse effect on the pacing, something that was a real strength of the former.

Ultimately, I did enjoy Wind River and it was a solid enough film with a brilliant performance from Renner. The script was solid enough and it continued Sheridan’s highlighting of the disenfranchised elements of modern society. The frustratingly slow burn nature of the story for half the film, chronic underuse of Olson and poor pacing let it down in the end though.

Still, I’d certainly recommend giving it a watch.

Rating: 3/5

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