Wind River features Taylor Sheridan’s directorial debut, which sent the populace buzzing with anticipation with the prospect of a film from the talented screenwriter of Sicario (2015) and Hell or High Water (2016). With the film, Sheridan successfully delivers another crime drama with the ever-present inclusion of the deep human introspection he is known for.
Wind River is set in the desolate, wintry hills of an Indian reservation in Wyoming, kicking things off in the dead of the night with a teenage Native American girl running barefoot across the tundra. Wherever she was headed, she never makes it, as the body of Natalie (Kelsey Asbille) is found later by Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a Fish and Game Department officer working as a hunter to protect local farm animals on the reservation from predators. Further investigation reveals that besides dying after inhaling sub-zero air for an extended period of time, causing her lungs to freeze and burst, she had previously been raped.
Per procedure for homicides, the FBI is notified, and in due time, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olson), a rookie agent stationed in Las Vegas, arrives during a snowstorm in terribly inadequate clothing. She quickly learns that she’s extremely out of her depth in the unfamiliar place, as much of the townspeople cling to life with barely a glimmer of hope for the future. Realizing Cory’s skills and his touch with the Native American community could be an asset, she implores him to help with her investigation, but he seems determined to approach the case his own way. Circumstances keep pushing them together, however, and eventually Jane learns to trust Cory implicitly, and in turn Cory opens up to her about his own daughter’s unsolved death two years prior in a moving performance, summing up his role as one that is quite different from other characters he is generally seen playing on-screen.
As a director, Sheridan focuses on fleshing out the characters and the constant fear of hopelessness all of them feel, especially in the Natives in their struggle to survive on their snowy, desolate reservation. In a setting that masks more than just the surrounding sound, he gives his characters real reason to act impulsively, whether it be lashing out in loneliness or giving up all hope and wallowing in sorrow and regret.
Wind River is a film that can really only be seen to truly experience its entirety, as the story alone isn’t the factor that is carrying all the weight; the performances, the emotions, the cinematic beauty, and above all, the relationships being built on-screen are all well worth the watch. Sheridan’s writing increasingly brews up more intriguing conflict at every turn, pitting characters with and against each other and giving his cast members a great amount of space to maneuver and demonstrate their craft. Particularly, the performances of Renner and Gil Birmingham as Natalie’s father, Martin, deserve praise, as they both depict characters with deep wounds in their hearts that will never completely heal. As for Sheridan himself, we can definitely continue to look forward to his future projects, whether it be from a script or behind the camera or, like this case, both.
The film hits theaters this Friday.