From the screenwriter of last year’s highly acclaimed and Oscar-nominated best picture “Hell or High Water” comes another thoughtful and character-driven crime thriller. In “Wind River,” we find Taylor Sheridan not only providing the film’s ambitious script but also sliding behind the camera in his directorial debut. The result is a well-executed and character driven homicide mystery deep inside the isolated lands of a Native American Indian reservation.
In easily his best screen performance since 2009’s “The Hurt Locker,” Jeremy Renner brings a calming influence throughout this nail biter. As a U.S. Fish & Wildlife officer, Renner assists a novice FBI field agent (Elizabeth Olsen) in investigating the suspicious death of a young American Indian. Using his steady rifle hand with unmatched tracking skills, Renner’s character brings clarity and clues to the murder scene high atop the wintry mountains of the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming.
“Wind River” is a methodical whodunit that keeps your attention from start to finish. A supporting cast, while not nearly as engrossing as Renner, raises the film’s suspense by drilling further into the background of a handful of other characters. The younger sibling to popular television twins Mary-Kate and Ashley of “Full House” fame, Elizabeth Olsen competently portrays a fledgling Bureau agent outside her comfort zone but eager and smart enough to seek Renner’s outdoor expertise for help.
While I don’t think “Wind River” is nearly as pleasing of a movie journey as Sheridan’s “Hell or High Water” or “Sicario” (2015) screenplays, it is a solid, yet violent, crime drama with Renner at the helm. The film’s best attributes are the seclusion it paints of life on the Indian reservation and the stark contrast between Renner’s wise, older wilderness expert character and Olsen’s inexperienced federal agent role.
The sprawling, majestic snow-covered mountains of Wyoming provide an amazing look at Renner’s daily workspace and within Olsen’s federal authority. Together they hunt down evil with the aid of a local tribal police chief despite odds and severe weather stacked against them. While the film’s homicide takes top importance throughout the storyline, it’s the personal history behind Renner’s Cory Lambert role that is the most intriguing.
Don’t look for “Wind River” to garner the high praise and several Academy Award nominations that Sheridan’s other screenplays raked in. As one of Hollywood’s newest directors, though, Sheridan’s future looks extremely bright as he continues to unleash his talents in well-developed, gripping crime dramas.
Patrick King is a resident of Tucson and writer for the REEL BRIEF movie blog at www.reelbrief.com.