Taylor Sheridan abandons the warm Texan plains and Mexican border for somewhere much chillier – and more chilling – in his third captivating crime epic.
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Out in the remote and freezing cold wilderness of the Wind River Indian Preservation in Wyoming, the town’s veteran game tracker Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) stumbles upon the body of a young woman half-buried in the snow. With little law enforcement present in the region, the FBI sends in rookie agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) to investigate the suspected homicide. Unprepared for the isolation and oppressive weather, she recruits Cory as her guide to assist her. Together, they uncover the dark and disturbing truths lurking beneath the surface of the Native American community and its surroundings in their quest to solve the mystery of this girl’s violent fate.
Cinema’s most explosive new screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, the man behind Sicario and Hell or High Water, takes the leap to double duties and steps up as director with Wind River, working from another of his original scripts. And despite a deceptively unremarkable, give-nothing-away title, it’s every bit as violently thrilling as his previous works. Wind River is a fittingly breathtaking conclusion to that trilogy; it may not have Sicario‘s slick artsy flair and social commentary or Hell or High Water‘s contemporary skewering of the Western genre, but it more than makes up for this in raw excitement and a gripping, Coen-style story chock full of hair-raising moments.
Having been an actor before shifting to the creative mind behind the camera, Sheridan no doubt picked up plenty of behind the scenes knowledge of filmmaking; it’s made clear in the natural confidence he exerts in his first directing gig. He’s focused on creating strong characters then building the world up around them, evident from the fact that much of the picture’s success stems from the driving force of its central pair.
Jeremy Renner does his tough-guy, man-of-few-words thing, but he’s given plenty of depth as a severely damaged character. The standout is Elizabeth Olsen, bringing to mind Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling from The Silence of the Lambs. Overwhelmed, but always maintaining her bravery, it’s a stunningly mature performance from Olsen.
It’s best to enter Wind River with as little knowledge of what’s going to unravel as possible. It’s a slow burner, big on suspense and utterly eruptive when it does reach the boiling point at its conclusion. Sheridan’s touched on Native American issues before, but here they’re deeply ingrained in the plot and the community it follows, raising a whole barrage of points about cultural suspicions and the clash between whites and natives. Linking thematically with his previous two films, Sheridan’s trilogy may be the most socially conscious exploration of America and its racial relations with the societies at its borders. Given the competence he shows here as a director, Sheridan’s rooted himself as a great filmmaker as well as one of the most exciting storytellers of recent times. Soldado can’t come soon enough.
Wind River is available in Australian cinemas from August 10
Image courtesy of Icon Film Distribution