Sundance Journal: ‘Wind River’

'Wind River'

Movie Rating:

5

Taylor Sheridan struck gold twice in a row with his screenplays for ‘Sicario’ and ‘Hell or High Water’. His latest effort, ‘Wind River’, came into the Sundance festival with swarms of buzz – especially because Sheridan both wrote and directed. I walked into it with pretty high expectations and was ecstatic to walk away entirely satisfied.

Wind River is a Native American reservation near central Wyoming. During its blistering winters, the rocky and mountainous landscape creates quite a harsh lifestyle for the locals.

Jeremy Renner stars as a state wildlife worker who hunts predators that threaten the local farming communities. When a mountain lion and her two cubs attack cattle, he mounts a snowmobile with his trusty rifle and follows the tracks deep into the mountains. Around six miles from civilization, he finds signs of a scuffle – but not with the mountain lions. Following a new set of tracks, he discovers the recently frozen body of a scantily clad young woman. With signs of possible abuse, the FBI is called out to determine whether this is a murder.

Enter Elizabeth Olsen, a new agent with no experience in cases like this. She follows the handbook as closely as she can, but is unable to maneuver through the locals and the landscape. With permission from the state, she requests that Renner accompany her in the investigation. Not only does he have a longstanding history with the locals, but he can safely take her through the uninhabited terrain in search of clues.

‘Wind River’ may sound like a standard murder mystery, but it doesn’t fall for tropes, clichés or formulas. It builds complete characters that you can easily emotionally connect with despite knowing the bare minimum about them. Just when you think you may know where the story is going, it breaks expectations and heads down a different path.

Renner and Olsen are a far stronger pair here than they are in the superficial Marvel movies. The supporting cast of Native American actors are also excellent. The cinematography (especially in the snowy wilderness settings) is top-notch. The outbursts of violence are brutally realistic and never sensationalized. They’re sparse, blunt, brief and disturbing. And, as we’d expect from the writer of ‘Sicario’ and ‘Hell or High Water’, the film has a strong social message embedded deep within its story.

Assuming that ‘Wind River’ is released by the end of the year, I can see this movie landing some award nominations.

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