Since the arrival of his brutal, intense, crime thriller Sicario, almost two years ago, all eyes have been on writer Taylor Sheridan. His follow up, Hell or High Water was one of last year’s strongest American revenge stories. Now he returns as both writer and director of Wind River, an icy thriller centres round the violent and mysterious death of an eighteen-year-old Native American woman. Local hunter Cory (Jeremy Renner) comes across the frozen, bloodied body, far from home, barefoot and miles from any houses or refuge. A strong-willed FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) arrives to oversee the investigation, unprepared for the obstacles that she will face on Native American soil where the harsh weather and freezing temperatures dictate and sabotage the work at hand. With the evident lack of local cooperation and official back up, Agent Sarah Banner requests the assistance of Cory, hoping to make use of his geographical knowledge and experience in tracking animals through the snow. Agent Banner proposes that he should “come and hunt one for her” unaware of the cowboy’s personal intent to bring justice upon the murderer, for the family of the murdered. Still in turmoil over his own recent grievances, Cory painfully faces personal loss that the case reawakens for him. Betrayal, murder and revenge make Wind River a wonderful third act in the writer’s gruelling trilogy. Having Sheridan in the director’s chair as well as behind the typewriter is a wonderful addition, producing intense cinematic results.
It’s delightful to see authentic Native American representation within the cast, and despite a strong and controlled performance from Renner, it’s sad that the film still felt the need to rely on a white actor in the central role. To some extent Renner’s casting adds to the remodelled and modernised take on the theme of Cowboys vs. Indians. The supporting cast are outstanding with a particularly tender performance from Gil Birmingham. Graham Greene and Julia Jones are also perfectly cast as the local police chief and Cory’s ex-wife. What Sheridan’s dialogue and his cast subtly bring to life, is the intense stewing sorrow that plagues the male characters, with stern and confident women often isolated in their midst. Low lifes, psychopaths and charismatic protagonists with warped morality thrive in Sheridan’s work, with a powerful hunger for revenge carrying his stories through their suspenseful final chapters. Wind River‘s murder mystery is wrapped in a striking and ominous score from Nick Cave and his frequent collaborator Warren Ellis. Their musical contribution to Wind River reflects the bleak and unforgiving landscapes that consumes all within it. Well paced and confidently executed, this is undoubtedly further evidence of Taylor Sheridan’s growing talent and success. Shining a light on the on-going and violent dangers and injustices faced by Native American women, Wind River is a frosty tale of blood and snow in which the chaos of nature reigns supreme.
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