“Wind River” is Taylor Sheridan’s directorial sophomore attempt, although he is a well-known writer with last year’s Oscar-nominated film “Hell or High Water.” “Wind River” tests his ability to bring his words to life, via Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, and Graham Green. From this reviewer’s perspective, Sheridan passes the test with flying colors. Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2017, there wasn’t a dry eye in the packed Eccles Theater—close to 1500 viewers—as we were all completely blown away with the film and the performances.
Sheridan takes inspiration from real life for “Wind River.” Although a fictional tale, the details reveal the devastating situation on Native American reservations in our country. The film depicts a young Native American girl, full of promise and hope, found frozen in the mountains and in a nightgown. Tracker Cory Lambert is called in to investigate, but his demons surface as the investigation ensues. FBI investigator, Jane Banner (Olsen), teams up with Cory to solve the murder which authorities deem an accident. It’s a chilling portrayal of a culture and circumstance that is not only inexcusable, it’s unfathomable.
To say that “Wind River” takes you on an emotional roller coaster ride doesn’t do it justice. Anger, sorrow, humor, love, disgust, and devastation are all expertly woven into the story as we get to know Cory and his situation. We meet the parents of the girl who has died. We have empathy for the awkwardness that Jane feels as she attempts to solve a murder and confront officials, suspects, and the dregs of society that have been created by their situation. She’s young, inexperienced, and female…three strikes against her in this town. We are taken on a journey of emotional growth for both Jane and Cory, connecting us even more deeply to them.
Sheridan has an unequivocal voice in portraying the pain that a mother and father endure after losing a child. He brings in elements of tradition in the Native Americans while recognizing the commonality among us all, no matter our background. These intensely real characters in real situations created with the utmost of care reveals the skill and innate ability Sheridan has in bringing his words to life. His style allows you to laugh in between your gasping and shedding of tears, captivating you like no other film.
The role was written for Renner, according to Sheridan, and it fits him like a glove. His intensity and humility shines through with confidence. While he portrays a man who initially seems heartless, he is anything but that. The opening scene is reminiscent of “The Bourne Legacy” or “Mission: Impossible” films, but we quickly are brought into a completely different film with Renner’s character’s sadness and strength as he helps those around him. Renner’s ability to portray this man is simply astounding.
Olsen finds her role as the new FBI agent equally as comfortable, giving us a stellar performance. She could have been anyone’s daughter, being thrust into dire and dangerous situations, but the level of reality is always there. Sheridan takes care to bring us the details of the lack of cold preparation and the need to find suitable snow suits with humor and heart and then thrusts us back into the brutally harsh cold and deadly environment faster than a blizzard.
Of course, Graham Greene brings credibility in this story along with his signature style of authenticity and humor. Sheridan brings together all of these actors and brings out their strengths like a choreographer of a ballet—it’s precision at its best.
Cinematically, “Wind River” is stunning as it captures the starkness and harshness of the elements surrounding the characters. We can feel the wind whipping across the plains and over the mountain tops as it slices through the bare flesh of our emotional soul. It’s a masterpiece on every level, binding us closely with the situation and the characters.
“Wind River” is a brutally stunning story capturing the harsh realities of Native American life in a fictional crime thriller. Standout performances, excellence in direction, writing, and cinematography create one of the best films of 2017. Sheridan and his cast should ready themselves for the 2018 Academy Awards.