In an age where most “big films” are either superhero movies, remakes, or remakes of superhero movies, it’s refreshing to find a talent with such a reliably old-school sensibility. Taylor Sheridan wrote Sicario and Hell or High Water, two fairly masculine thrillers with a disarming sense of patience and character woven through them, which made their inevitable gunfire-heavy climaxes all the more powerful. With Wind River, Sheridan has assumed directing duties, and what the picture lacks in major set-pieces it more than makes up for in a consistent, singular sense of tone, a noirish-Western thriller with a refreshing sense of moral responsibility.
Jeremy Renner, in his best role since The Town, plays Cory Lambert. It’s a name that sounds like it belongs to a high-school student, a star of The OC – but Lambert is anything but. First seen slaughtering wolves with a sniper rifle, he’s a hunter, a man of the snowy Wyoming wilderness who’s taken up residence in Wind River, a remote Native American reservation. When the body of a young girl is found in the snow, the tiny police force is joined by Jane Banner (Elisabeth Olsen), an FBI agent who’s a long way from Langley. And even though he’s no cop, it’s Lambert that proves to be the most useful in her investigation; he’s the only one who knows the behaviour of wolves, and wants justice on behalf of their prey.
While gunfights and snowmobile chases across a desolate snowscape are naturally cinematic, Sheridan distinguishes himself by paying attention to details. Native Americans rarely come off well in such films, but, like in most good murder procedurals, the director sheds light on real issues – such as the fact that there is no register for missing Native Americans. The heart of the drama comes from Lambert’s own loss of his daughter, herself mixed-race; and the ruffians he interrogates seem to turn to crime more out of existential despondency than anything else.
It’s a straightforward movie that suddenly lurches into a clever, heart-stopping climax, reminiscent of Sam Peckinpah at his best. Renner is very good in the role, and while Warren Ellis’s soundtrack work is growing familiar, it’s effective in setting up a world of bruised masculine values. Wind River isn’t a big revelation, but it’s solid and atmospheric, the kind of film that should really be made more often.
Wind River does not have a UK release date yet.
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Watch the trailer for Wind River here: