Courtesy of The Weinstein Company
You don’t need to look far out into the snowy tundra of Wyoming to find a solid movie, but longtime screenwriter, Taylor Sheridan, who's proved his writing credentials on the likes “Sicario” and “Hell Or High Water” is taking us there in his directorial debut “Wind River.” Sheridan is always quick to ground his films in reality, and offer deep messages about livelihood along the way. Not many screenwriters can make the leap to the director's chair, and those that do often stray from what makes their writing so good. A script needs to have dimensions, thrills and suspense (but what all does anymore?) I’d say that Sheridan's latest, a fierce, contemplative western, isn't as dicey as those other high profile thrillers I mentioned prior (which isn’t a bad thing), but he more than succeeds in making the film he wanted to.
Taking some time off from his franchise paychecks, Jeremy Renner steps back into his roots and highlights why he’s so talented in the first place. This time, he isn’t shooting arrows at intergalactic beings with The Avengers, instead playing a tough as-nails Marlboro man named Cory, who is a wildlife hunter, paid to execute wolves and coyotes chewing up local livestock. Before that, the film opens with the faint sounds of heavy breathing, and we see a girl running, barefoot, in sub-zero degree temperatures, with blankets of white snow on the ground. Her name is Natalie (Kelsey As bill), and we don’t know why she’s running, but obviously it’s from someone.
Some two or three days later, Cory's tracking leads him down a bloody path to the poor girl's remains, immediately it looks like foul play and she’s also been violated. A scene that looks all too familiar with Cory, who lost his daughter three years prior and cause of death still remains a mystery. The event ultimately caused the end of a loving marriage with his younger son staying with him as often as he can. In a scene later on, Renner beautifully and emotionally delivers a speech detailing the events of his daughter's death, a grounded moment that cements some of the actors best works. It’s clear Renner brings all the layers of pain to his character.
With one of the biggest snowstorms on the horizon, the FBI sends in a young and naïve Agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen - also from “The Avengers”) - whom is normally stationed in Las Vegas, but was called to the scene because she, literally, was the closest asset for the investigation. The coroner deems Natalie's death as causes not linked to murder, but we all know the truth. Thus some backwoods interrogating begins. Banner is an ironic persona, because everyone seems to look at her for answers, when she doesn’t have quite the experience Cory does, but they make a good pair anyway.
Their evidence leads them to some of Wind River’s worse, a local crack house that escalades to some heavy, albeit, thrilling action. Next, it’s like Sheridan is connecting the dots for us, and the movie starts diving down into Tarantino territory with a 10 person Mexican standoff that is hard to keep track off. We are shown a flashback sequence of how the events of the murder took place (it's dark and ugly) and the film is all but over. A simple minded resolution no question, but it’s almost too smooth. “Wind River” could have easily benefitted from another twist or two along the way, instead it just kind of goes from point A to B to C.
Still, for all it’s cliché ridden outlines that have benefitted so many other westerns in the same genre, the narrative and message are strong. Because “Wind River” is a cautionary tale about certain injustices amongst Native Americans that go unnoticed. A story of redemption and revenge that manages to balance dramatic beats with high stake tension. Most movies have a tough time finding that balance, and “Wind River” just made it look easy. B+