"Wind River" is a film based on true events written and directed by Taylor Sheridan. Sheridan started his career in acting, appearing in small films and in recurring roles in TV shows such as Veronica Mars, Walker, Texas Ranger and most notably as Deputy David Hale in FX Network’s Sons of Anarchy. But in recent years Sheridan has taken his talents in a different direction in the way of a feature film screenwriter. In 2015 he coined the smart and edgy screenplay dialogue in the sleeper hit “Sicario” starring Emile Blunt and Bernicio Del Toro (of which he is writing the sequel called “Soldaldo”). His follow up effort to “Sicario” was the screenplay for the Oscar nominated film “Hell or High Water” which garnered him an Oscar nomination in the Best Original Screenplay category. Now, Sheridan offers up not only his superb writing skills but also his debut as a film director in the film “Wind River” which won him the 2017 Cannes Film Festival Best Director Award.
“Wind River” stars Jeremy Renner as a US Fish and Wildlife Service agent named Cory Lambert, both a simple man and a tortured soul from being divorced from his Native American wife. Still he goes out each day taking pride in his work ridding humanely the parks and reservations of the few predatory animals that kill farmers live stock in the winter rural areas and mountains of Wyoming.
PLOT: On a cold snowy morning while looking for “lions” (aka Mountain Lions) Cory discovers a body of a young Native American woman named Natalie on the rugged Wind River Indian Reservation. She was best friends with Cory’s daughter and family friend to Native American Martin (Gil Birmingham who was TX Ranger Alberto in “Hell or High Water”).
Cory immediately calls for local tribal police Chief “Ben” (Graham Greene aka as “Kicking Bird” in “Dances with Wolves”) to deliver the news, who believes she may have been the victim initially of a crime on Federal land. Chief Ben decides to send for the FBI to investigate in the way of a rookie FBI Agent named Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) out of Nevada. Agent Banner is smart and fearless and attempts earnestly to take charge of the investigation. But because she appears to be somewhat unprepared to dealing with the cultural differences on the Indian Reservation and the unusual harshness of the ever oppressive weather and isolation of Wyoming she employs Cory to be both her partner and tracker of the unusual question confronting them about Natalie’s murder. How does someone freeze to death barefoot with the nearest home 6 miles away and no signs of how she got there? Together Cory and Banner venture deep into a world ravaged by violence and the elements.
REVIEW: Wind River, is not as good as Sicario or Hell or High Water, but it is still one of the best films I have seen for 2017. Sheridan’s work here is pure modern film noir filled with darkness and yet very stylish in its visual effect. Sheridan’s delivers his third stellar screenplay in a row with his Wind River sounding more at times like poetic grace and yet still brilliantly and grittily aligned with telling a modern story revolving around his Native American subjects. He also manages to double down on his plot to not only solving Natalie’s murder but to surreptitiously examine with authentic feelings how his central characters (for various reasons) appear to be in a perpetually state of struggle about their lives, as well as astutely examining how good people deal with unexpected grief and personal loss. But the real strength of the film is Sheridan’s adroit patience not to rush his story. He slowly executes his “Wind River” in a way that keeps the viewing audience riveted and focused on the various characters without any flash or false surprise. And yet there are a few good moments that will come at you not only very fast and very furious, they come totally unexpected.
Overall “Wind River” is very low key and subdued in its execution and yet each frame felt fresh, dynamic and richly grounded in a quiet raw intensity as it methodically goes through the working paces of who killed Natalie. Sheridan asks his characters to “live in each scene” and not simply act in them. Jeremy Renner delivers his best performance since “The Town” delivering both the lonesome old cowboy persona and yet being very much a very modern working man who gets up each day to ride off to work on his snowmobile.
“Wind River” is a very solid murder mystery thriller. But the greatest revelation to this film is watching Taylor Sheridan go from being a decent actor to truly putting his stamp in Hollywood not only as a very gifted writer, creating some of the best dialogue in recent memory, but also quite masterful in directing his own words with equal aplomb.
If you see this, absorb the patience of the story telling, its a good thing. Meanwhile a Sheridan star is born.