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Wind River – Movie Review

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Wind River – Movie Review

Rating: B- (Okay)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy VVS Films

Taylor Sheridan’s previous writing credits on Sicario and Hell or High Water established a screenwriter with an interest in the coldness and emotional attachment that can come from being an authority figure on a mission. With his directorial debut, Sheridan seems like he might apply these things to the topical subject of disappearances in Native American communities. Wind River doesn’t do that and instead becomes a standard detective story with shoot-‘em-ups. Sheridan is a director with promise, but this film does feel like the product of somebody stepping behind the camera for the first time. It’s a competently made piece, albeit one riddled with flaws.

What Sheridan does very well in Wind River is showcase the isolation of this Wyoming community. It’s almost cut off from the rest of the state and this is displayed through not only the small cast of characters we meet, but the confusion of Elizabeth Olsen’s FBI agent assigned to the case. It’s a town where everyone knows each other and that makes it easy to buy the camaraderie with which everyone greets Jeremy Renner’s hunter. Both Renner and Olsen deliver solid performances and one sees how the two work together as a team. Sheridan thankfully resists turning them into a romantic couple. For them to fall in love during this case would have been completely inappropriate and jarring in tone from the rest of the film.

Renner has the strongest arc as the audience is privy to the effect this murder is having on him. There’s a silent resistance to letting it impact him, but when the script reveals his history bit by bit, it shows why he’s invested. The film’s biggest fault is in how it depicts the violent acts on screen. There is a way to handle this subject matter in a way that isn’t gratuitous, but Sheridan crosses the line and takes one offending action too far. It feels exploitative and is disturbing in the worst manner possible. The actor playing the person responsible gives a performance that borders on over-the-top. The character was already repulsive and unlikeable on the page that a performance taken up to eleven feels unnecessary.

Sheridan also goes too old country western with the gun violence. One Mexican stand-off feels more at home in a schlocky gore fest than in a serious detective film. It’s tonally off from the rest of the picture. Bizarrely, the cinematography is all over the place. The film will occasionally have swooping shots of the snowy countryside. When we get simple dialogue scenes, the camera shakes uncontrollably. That’s when it becomes obvious this is Sheridan’s directorial debut. The most disappointing aspect of Wind River comes from how it barely touches the topic it’s meant to be addressing. A tacked-on message at the end feels like too little, too late.

Wind River is not a bad start for Taylor Sheridan’s directing career and he gets solid performances from his two leads. However, the promise displayed at the start of the film drifts away as the movie becomes more exploitative. The steps it makes in the third act don’t connect well with what led up to them. Wind River is being positioned as this year’s Hell or High Water, but it lacks the dimensionality of that picture and the social commentary meant to make these people feel real. There was a chance to explore a serious topic and Wind River just doesn’t do that.


Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison