Wind River (2017)

Review #1,512

Director:  Taylor Sheridan
Cast:  Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Kelsey Asbille, Julia Jones, Graham Greene
Plot:  A veteran tracker with the Fish and Wildlife Service helps to investigate the murder of a young Native American woman, and uses the case as a means of seeking redemption for an earlier act of irresponsibility which ended in tragedy.

Genre:  Crime / Drama / Mystery
Awards:  Won Un Certain Regard - Best Director, Nom. for Camera d'Or (Cannes)
Runtime:  107 mins
Rating:  M18 for strong violence, a rape, disturbing images, and language
International Sales:  Insiders
Singapore Distributor:  Shaw Organisation

“Luck don't live out here.”

Taylor Sheridan’s first foray into directing territory is a fruitful one.  In fact, when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, it received a lengthy standing ovation.  The film also went on to win the Best Director prize in the Un Certain Regard category.  

Wind River is a largely assured slow-burning drama-thriller that squeezes out every ounce of dense atmosphere from its setting.  Set against an unforgiving environment of extreme cold, Sheridan’s work, shot in the wide expanses of Utah and Wyoming, centers on a mysterious death of a young Native American woman.  

Her body lays frozen, miles away from the nearest house, discovered by Cory (Jeremy Renner), an experienced tracker of wild animals.  The FBI is called in, namely Jane (Elizabeth Olsen), a rookie who happens to be activated because she is nearest to the site.  Sheridan takes time to let us absorb the hostility of the environment, as well as the brutality of human behaviour as life-and-death scenarios play out with suspense and shocking violence.  

A skilled writer, Sheridan focuses on his characters, particularly Cory’s relationship with his fellow county residents—scenes between Cory and the father of the deceased are quietly poignant, forming the emotional backbone of the film.  A reserved person if only to hide his sheer tenacity, Cory may be a man of few words, but he is a man of wisdom, trying to overcome his own tragic loss in his own way.  

You could say that Wind River is a character study, insofar as Sicario (2015) and Hell or High Water (2016) are also character studies.  The latter two films, written by Sheridan, but directed by Denis Villeneuve and David Mackenzie respectively, form his trilogy of ‘American Frontier’ movies.  Taken together, this trio of films shares Sheridan’s unique voice as an ‘auteur’ as he pits his characters against unpredictable circumstances and amongst people who do not necessarily obey the law of the land. 

Wind River is a promising beginning for Sheridan the filmmaker, and one could also see how he has also internalised the craft of suspense filmmaking—scenes of an armed standoff echo that of the incredibly tense highway scene in Sicario.  There is also a case in seeing Wind River as a modern Western, and in some way, it could be a great companion piece to the indie hit, Winter’s Bone (2010), which launched the career of Jennifer Lawrence.

Verdict:  Taylor Sheridan’s directorial debut is a largely assured slow-burning drama-thriller, set against an unforgiving environment of extreme cold.





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