Taylor Sheridan has already made quite an impact on cinema in recent years, penning the scripts for Sicario and Hell or High Water with acclaimed filmmakers at the helm. Now he has returned to the director’s chair for mystery drama Wind River which he has referred to as the last chapter in a loose trilogy about the modern American frontier. The story follows game tracker Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) who works at the Indian Reservation which gives the film its name. When the body of a teenage girl is discovered, FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is called to the scene of the crime. The pair join forces and as the investigation unravels, Cory is forced to wrestle his own personal demons.
Taking influence from the filmmakers he has worked with in the aforementioned projects, Sheridan’s approach leaves footprints which are in-keeping with their style, only now they are left deep in an unforgiving snowy landscape. Though the investigation plot is relatively straightforward for the most part, it provides a chillingly atmospheric backdrop for weighty subject matter to be explored, like the horror of losing a child and the stretched Wyoming police force’s apparent unwillingness to solve or even address local crime. The creeping pace applied adds to the overall unnerving experience, but there could have been one or two additional big moments of drama to break up the slow rhythm.
Being a local man, Cory is incredibly familiar with the area and knows the family of the murder victim personally. Because of this, he is very close to the case, contrasting with Jane who is very much an outsider. She is strong-willed and determined but out of her comfort zone and distanced from the murky depths she finds herself in. This stark contrast is interesting to see and it transforms as the story develops, with both Renner and Olsen excelling in the tough roles. Having worked together previously in the Marvel universe, they have an evident on-screen connection and are comfortable enough with each other to reach new heights of performance. Olsen, in particular, is on top form, showing a bad-ass attitude on the outside as she struggles to cope with the enormity of her situation.
Sheridan conjures up an ominous tension in the brutal opening sequence which rarely lets up throughout, creating a cinema experience on tenterhooks as the initial murder-case continues to open up fresh wounds in the community and the citizens unfortunate enough to inhabit it. With Wind River, he expresses his capability in presenting his own directorial vision to match his established screenwriting finesse, crafting a powerful, intelligently told piece of film.