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Wind River Movie Review

Wind River (2017) movie poster Wind River

Theatrical Release: August 4, 2017 / Running Time: 107 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Taylor Sheridan

Cast: Jeremy Renner (Cory Lambert), Elizabeth Olsen (Jane Banner), Gil Birmingham (Martin Hanson), Graham Greene (Ben), James Jordan (Pete Mickens), Jon Bernthal (Matt), Julia Jones (Wilma Lambert), Kelsey Asbile (Natalie Hanson), Martin Sensmeier (Chip Hanson), Norman Lehnert (Dale), Tokala Clifford (Sam Littlefeather), Eric Lange (Dr. Whitehurst), Tyler Laracca (Frank Walker), Ian Bohen (Evan), Hugh Dillon (Curtis), Matthew Del Negro (Dillon), Teo Briones (Casey Lambert)

 

Screenwriting is largely an anonymous career for those who do not also direct, but in the past two years, Taylor Sheridan has emerged as an original storyteller to watch with his acclaimed screenplays for Sicario and Hell or High Water,
the latter of which earned him a well-deserved Academy Award nomination. Now, Sheridan, previously a veteran television character actor probably not recognizable from recurring roles on "Sons of Anarchy" and "Veronica Mars", makes the perhaps inevitable leap to writer-director on Wind River, a film just as good as the 2016 Best Picture nominee he only wrote.

Wind River is not Sheridan's directorial debut; he did helm the no-budget 2011 horror film Vile. But obviously, this film is something different, the latest in his string of bold, flavorful thrillers released in the year's third quarter.

Based on true events, Wind opens with a poem and a young Native American woman passing out in the snow. We then meet Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a proficient hunter and Fish & Wildlife officer in Wyoming's icy Wind River Indian reservation.

As on Sheridan's strong previous screenplays, atmosphere is a major force here. The title locale is bigger than any other character, although Sheridan continues to display a knack for creating those. A vast region marked by subzero temperatures and never-melting snow, Wind River has just five police officers to patrol a region the size of Rhode Island. When Lambert finds the dead body of the young woman from the prologue, it reopens wounds from his past while also presenting a painful new mystery for him to solve.

In "Wind River", an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) and local Fish & Wildlife officer (Jeremy Renner) team up to solve a murder.

Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), the FBI agent nearest the crime scene, arrives, unprepared for the frostbite-inducing weather. The locals, including cynical Indian police chief Ben (a good Graham Greene),
view the young agent with skepticism. But they also recognize that she is their best hope for solving the young woman's puzzling death. She, meanwhile, decides that Cory, with his knowledge of the terrain and eye for detail, would be the perfect person to assist with the investigation.

Wind River proceeds as a procedural, but not at all a run of the mill one. Cory's past hurt is gradually made clear, as is his reason for being so invested into this particular case. A visit to the victim's family (her father is played by a lushly bewigged Gil Birmingham) clues us in to the factors that make this investigation difficult. Youths, including the deceased's own brother, are mixed up with drugs as an escape from the otherwise dead and unforgiving landscape. And there is obvious resentment that this is what the people who first occupied this nation have been reduced to.

Sheridan manages to tastefully make Wind River a number of things that elevate it above and beyond simply a law enforcement murder mystery. The case functions as catharsis for Cody, his past traumas slowly coming to light. It also shines a light on a race that no number of casinos can grant peace and whose crime, as closing text indicates, is not sufficiently tracked or combatted. It's not easy to achieve these things while also compelling as a piece of entertainment, but Wind River makes it look effortless with its deliberate presentation, a tactfully timed reveal, and a kind of classic and fulfilling Western resolution. It's better than Sicario and right up there with Hell or High Water as a contemporary thriller that feels timeless. That this film is based in reality does not make a significant difference in Sheridan's storytelling, which is sound and driven by complex characters you enjoy getting to know.

Following a strong showing in just four theaters on the coasts last weekend, Wind River expands to forty today in a slow, strategic rollout from The Weinstein Company. Once the darlings of award season and masters of the arthouse crowdpleaser, TWC has hit a bit of a rough patch lately, with one real standout success for about every five commercial and/or critical misses. Could Wind River be 2017's Weinstein hit? That seems unlikely, but the reviews have been kind and initial interest promising. The dream scenario would be a performance comparable to what CBS and Lionsgate got on Hell or High Water a year earlier, a film that ended up grossing $27 million domestic on a $12 M budget and beating out a lot of fresher-in-mind competition to claim nominations in four major Oscar categories. Wind seems unlikely to repeat such an unusual feat, but it is unquestionably one of 2017's very best films so far and absolutely worth a look.

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Reviewed August 11, 2017.



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