Wind River is masterful, utterly immaculate filmmaking, almost suffocating in its greatness by the time its powerful conclusion unfolds. Written and directed by the extremely talented storyteller Taylor Sheridan, who in the past few years has scripted the one-two punch of Sicario (for Denis Villeneuve) and Hell or High Water (for David Mackenzie); I’m happy to report that he’s as good of a director as he is a writer, though I’ll likely skip his torture-porn debut Vile from 2011. Wind River, to my eye and from where I sit, is virtually faultless, with a rock-solid narrative built upon deep swells of familial emotion and discord, and punctuated by smart, sudden violence and unwavering tension (especially during the final act) that isn’t over-done or gratuitous. And the layered themes of isolation, depression, and societal anger that Sheridan embeds in his narrative only solidifies every ounce of the story.
The film tells a dark and tragic story with a snowy, lyrical touch; it’s a murder mystery/whodunit but one that’s elevated because of Jeremy Renner’s intensely focused and realized performance, and everything else around him in terms of the ace supporting performances and gritty production values. Elizabeth Olsen is the out-of-her-depth FBI agent (nice nod to The Silence of the Lambs, in more ways than one) assigned to investigate a rape/murder on a Native American reservation in Wyoming, with Renner playing a fish and game officer who “hunts predators.” He’s more than happy to help her out when his assistance is requested in finding who’s responsible. I absolutely loved every single second of this film and I can’t wait to see it again and again, just as I felt with Sicario and Hell or High Water.
Sheridan’s innate ability of cutting to the chase and creating vulnerable characters who can still rise to the occasion is something I’m very much in awe of; his narratives are of the zero-fat variety, eschewing boring exposition, instead relying on their visuals to tell the story, with a sense of all forward momentum and characters being born out of situation without ever sacrificing the small details. Wind River is a deceptively simple film that isn’t interested in pulling the rug out from underneath you at the end, but rather, more interested in being focused and made with a determination to tell such a hard-lined story without softening any edges; it’s positively engrossing.
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ brooding and poetic music is in perfect tandem with the somber, stark visuals conjured up by cinematographer Ben Richardson, who previously shot Beasts of the Southern Wild and The Fault in Our Stars, and delivers some of the best work of the year in any movie that I’ve seen. Every single shot counts in this chilly and ultimately sad movie, and the editing by Gary D. Roach is strict and sharp, with a tense atmosphere felt all throughout. This is an exemplary thriller and a movie that will undoubtedly feature into my favorites of the year. And of course Peter Berg (Deepwater Horizon, Friday Night Lights, Patriot’s Day) was an executive producer; this guy is top-shelf all the way. And it goes without saying, I’ll follow Sheridan ANYWHERE he goes as a filmmaker; he’s one of the most exciting “new” voices in years.
Review by Nick Clement