Wind River

by Toby Woollaston

windTaylor Sheridan’s proclivity for scripting stories that shrewdly observe troubling American social issues has provided an interesting mix of genres. Wind River is no different, offering a heady blend of modern western, thriller, and neo-noir sensibilities.  Having previously penned Hell or High Water and Sicario, the talented scriptwriter has turned his attentions to the Director’s chair for Wind River—the fledgling Director wisely scaling things back with a simple murder-mystery set among the windswept snowscape of a Wyoming Indian Reserve.

Inspired by true events, the film centres on the rape and murder of a teenage girl found in the snowy wilds by professional game hunter Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner).  The mystery proves too great for local tribal Police with their meagre resources, and the Feds are clearly disinterested, offering a sole FBI agent to help on the case. Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is a slight and seemingly inexperienced young agent, who conspicuously doesn’t belong among Lambert and his wind-beaten companions. Unfortunately, her character never conquers this imbalance, much to the detriment of the story’s gender concerns.  Although, as Lambert explains, the landscape is harshly indifferent to all that go before it, reducing everything down to survival. And it appears that Banner cannot survive without the help of her male companion.  Banner represents a missed opportunity that contemporaries such as Silence of the Lambs’ Clarice Starling (to which Wind River owes a great deal) comfortably navigates. Its racial ideals fare no better, with Lambert again being the great white saviour applying the mop to an impotent cultural minority unable to deal with their own problems.

Despite the race and gender misfire, the cinematography and score elevate the film beyond mediocrity, evoking a palpable sense of isolation. Sheridan’s script maintains a robust structure throughout, keeping the plot humming along and offering some genuinely thrilling moments; even occasionally stepping aside to offer some poignant insights on grief and loss.  Sheridan’s Directorial strength clearly lies in ratcheting tension, but he makes a good fist of the more nuanced moments by getting excellent performances out of his cast. 

Read my reviews on the NZ Herald’s website here.