WIND RIVER (2017) – REVIEW

Taylor Sheridan’s recent career shift has an air of Matthew McConaughey’s resurgence as an actor a few years ago. Sure, Sheridan’s name holds none of the same weight, but the conviction is no less admirable. Sheridan was a working actor with a decent recurring gig on Sons Of Anarchy when finally he realised, at 40, what he was doing wasn’t giving him purpose. So he quits acting (and the steady paycheck) to start writing movies with no prior experience other than reading hundreds bad ones – now he has 3 terrific titles and an Oscar nomination to his name. With Sicario, Hell Or High Water and now Wind River (which he’s also directed), Taylor Sheridan is quite suddenly the one to watch.

The defining characteristic of Sheridan’s writing is plot simplicity, which affords his deeply burdened characters the space to reveal things about themselves and shed light on the corruption of the world, rather than just say things to move the story along. “I’m allergic to exposition”, as Sheridan himself puts it. What this means is we get films which challenge us on a very human and primal level, films which creep into our subconscious and remain there without us necessarily realising it, and force us to think about the world subversively. Where Sicario was about the deterioration of good in an inhumane world, Hell Or High Water dissected the religion of capitalism in a decaying society and challenged the gun culture in America.

Inspired by real events, Wind River moves us from the hot, sweaty suns of Mexico and Texas into a Native American reserve in the freezing outback of Wyoming, where a tracker (Renner) discovers the frozen body of a young Native American woman, possibly murdered and raped, and ends up being enlisted by the solo FBI agent on the scene (Olsen) to track down the culprit(s). With this fairly archetypal plot set up, the film soon opens up to its real purpose, becoming a deeply emotional and harrowing tale of responsibility and loss. It’s apt to make you weep and ponder to the depths of your soul; why must people be so wicked? Why must men continue to mistreat women? Why must the Native American still be subjugated in the land that was once their own?

As well as Sheridan’s intoxicatingly deft writing, the success of this pathos comes down to two blindingly impressive performances from Renner and Olsen. Renner, in particular, taps into a level of sentiment and remorse rarely seen from him as a father still grieving from the loss of his daughter and therefore understanding too keenly the toll this latest case is taking on his friend, Martin (Gil Birmingham, also great in Hell Or High Water). His speech enjoining Martin to accept the pain and allow the sorrow to play its part, otherwise risk losing her memory altogether, is truly heartbreaking – and I say this not just as a soon-to-be father of my first daughter.

It’s also an impressive first stab at directing from Sheridan, as he judges the pacing expertly and works with cinematographer Ben Richardson to create some magnificent visuals in this desolate, icy landscape. The extreme wide shots of characters trudging through the snow like ants cements the isolation surrounding everything in the film, both physical and figurative. It’s this isolation – this sheer barrenness – which ultimately defines the characters, and serves as a catalyst for another of the film’s explorations: the nature of choice.

Later on in the film, when a rapist starts hollering pathetic excuses for what he did (it’s too desolate and cold and there are no women around) it ties back into what Renner tells the brother of the murdered girl earlier on, who’s trying to make excuses for his own miserable life: that he had plenty of choices to do something else but chose to stay in this snowy wilderness taking drugs. There’s nothing else to it: that’s what he decided to do. We all make choices, and circumstance isn’t a get out of jail free card for making the wrong one.


Verdict:

Poetic and quietly powerful, Wind River stays with you like a shadow. You’ll wake up the next morning still thinking about it; how gorgeous were the visuals, how beautifully written and sorrowfully performed it was, how difficult it could be to watch at times, and find yourself contemplating the nature of loss and the delicate bridge between good and evil in this world. If you watch films to be moved, look no further.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆