By: Movie Snurb (Two Beers) –
Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is a veteran game tracker for a small town in north Wyoming. He hunts wolves and mountain lions for the town to keep from hunting the livestock. One day Cory comes across a frozen woman a few miles from any house or shelter on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Local police dispatch the FBI and they send out FBI Agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) to investigate the murder. Jane decides to recruit Cory to help her because he knows the land and knows how to track creatures. Soon we find out this is much more personal for Cory then we realize.
Taylor Sheridan is probably the most exciting screenwriter in Hollywood today maybe only behind Aaron Sorkin. He alone is revitalizing the western genre. First Sicario, then Hell or High Water, and now Wind River; Sheridan is taking very personal stories affecting many Americans today and using the landscapes where most Americans don’t know or understand. His ability to create tension and build that tension until it’s almost at the breaking point and then when you least expect it he breaks the tension with gunfire, explosions, or something else. Sheridan also has a magnificent way of telling a backstory so we aren’t sitting watch 20 minutes of boring backstory. Like when a character looks at a picture with a longing or sad almost regretful look. We know this person was important and is probably not around anymore. Then later after almost that whole story is fleshed out in quick shots, we’ll get a 1-minute dialogue to place in the missing pieces. It’s a brilliant method to fully flesh out characters without having to use bad dialogue or voice-over work. He’s a master craftsmen and I cannot wait to see what he has in store.
Even with the brilliant writing you still need capable actors or even a great screenplay could fall flat. Jeremy Renner is at his best in this film. Renner has always been at his best when he has a role he can sink his teeth into. It’s great to be in mega-blockbusters, however, in films like The Hurt Locker, The Town, and even in the basic action film S.W.A.T. his ability to fully flesh out a character and make them real is a true gift. Elizabeth Olsen is equally great as the do good FBI agent who knows nothing about the land or its people. It’s hard to portray what her character was going through. She is confident in her job and knows how to do it, however she still has a deer in the headlights when it comes to how things operate in Wind River. This could’ve came across as clunky or even one dimensional, however, Elizabeth does it wonderfully.
You can tell how personal this movie is for Sheridan. With this being his directorial debut, I think he choose this film because he knows people in this part of the country and wanted to make sure this story is told right. His tender eye for these details is what was needed to make this story feel honest and real and allows the audience to connect to the story. His choice to also use real Native American actors was a great choice to give even more authenticity to the story. People who understand the problems these people are facing, not just people who look like Native Americans.
I think the trope of having someone fly back 10 feet when they are shot in a movie is a lazy tool in an attempt to up the action because the rest of the film is flat. Or it’s used in a movie that is already over-the-top so the action matches. However, in a film like Wind River that is viscerally real, this feels very out of place. It’s makes the action feel unreal and takes the audience out of the story. I know it’s a minute detail but it really annoyed me because this film didn’t need that. The tense and action was already sweltering at 11, no need to try to intensify it when lazy action tropes to try to get the intensity across.
Taylor Sheridan continues to write excellent modern Westerns that tell honest stories of problems in today’s America. When most people are calling these places flyover country, Sheridan is telling the stories from here that most people don’t know. It is a solid third effort and a great directorial debut.
Wind River (2017) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time Jane mentions how cold it is.
Do a Shot: every time Cory mentions he’s a hunter.
Do a Shot: every time we look at tracks in the snow.
Take a Drink: whenever Cory snipes something.