Starring: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Graham Greene
Director: Taylor Sheridan
Running Time: 107 mins
Wind River is an American film about an experienced hunter and an FBI agent who work together to uncover what happened after a young woman’s bloodied body was found in the frozen wilderness of the Wind River Native American reservation in Wyoming.
As much as this film really wants to be an intense, riveting and even thought-provoking thriller, it just doesn’t cut the mustard. Despite some brilliant performances across the board, as well as striking visuals and a powerfully bleak atmosphere, Wind River really falls down in its wobbly screenplay, that fails to hold your interest as either a murder mystery or emotional drama, making for a much duller watch than is intended.
First off, however, let’s talk about the best part of the film, which is undoubtedly the performances. At the centre of the show are Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen, both of whom put in performances that ramp up the film’s emotional power signficantly, and save the underwhelming screenplay from being a full dud.
Renner in particular is great to watch, playing an intensely experienced, battle-hardened and incrediby skilful game tracker that plays an understated but integral role in every part of the case, working very well as an antithesis to the somewhat more hyperactive Elizabeth Olsen. However, Olsen is also fantastic, and in what is easily her best performance of all so far, she brings a real strength to her character that makes her riveting to watch, and also helps to whip the film as a whole into shape as she attempts to get through a difficult case in a very difficult environment as well as possible.
And in that comes the one side of the film’s story that does work: the mystery. The first ten minutes of the film are almost bare of any real story, doing little more than setting up the cold and bleak setting in a stereotypically Wyoming-esque manner, however when it starts to develop into a good old crime film, it’s really intriguing.
Whenever the characters are discussing and trying to figure what could have led to this young woman ending up in the snowy wilderness, it’s really interesting to watch, and constantly keeps you guessing as to the various possible motives and suspects for the crime.
Unfortunately, however, it seems as if the crime isn’t really writer-director Taylor Sheridan’s focus in the movie, because it becomes regularly crowded out by a screenplay that seems to favour some very dull and often inconsequential personal drama, something that proves particularly frustrating when the mystery takes a back seat and solves itself in a few minutes to make way for some more backstory.
While it’s always important to have a good bit of backstory for your characters, as this film does well, when discussing back stories takes over the main element of the plot, it feels like things have gone a little far. Despite the mystery proving fascinating, Wind River regularly breaks off for some very long and slow mumbles about various characters’ pasts that go beyond in-depth, to the point where they really don’t feel necessary to the story, proven by the fact that Olsen’s character, who has far less backstory, is just as interesting as anybody else in the film.
This seems like a pattern in Sheridan’s writing style, as both Sicario and Hell Or High Water (both written by Sheridan) suffered as somewhat dry crime thrillers. While they both had very well-written crime stories, they never managed to do the same when developing the characters as deeper personalities, something that has always taken away from me thinking of them as some of the best of the genre of the last few years, and it’s something that definitely crops up again in Wind River.
Finally, switching back onto the positive side, there’s no denying that Sheridan does a great job at directing the film’s bleak atmosphere, crafting stunning visuals of the desolate snowy wilderness of rural Wyoming that play as much of a part in the film as any human character, as well as re-emphasising some of the nastier elements of the plot.
Overall, Wind River is by no means a bad film, but it’s definitely not as good as it thinks it is. Despite two excellent central performances and an intriguing mystery, it’s a misfocused drama that regularly takes away from the true thrills and intrigue for something much duller, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.4.