Wind River

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Jeremy Renner and Gil Birmingham in Wind River - an FBI agent teams with the town's veteran game tracker to investigate a murder that occurred on a Native American reservation.
"The film is well-served by its genre action sequences but it's the traces of grief that linger longest, like footsteps in the snow."

After proving he could put together a taut screenplay with Sicario and Hell Or High Water, actor-turned-writer Taylor Sheridan returns to the directing he last had a bash at with 2011's Vile with this thriller. He describes Wind River as forming a loose 'frontier' trilogy with those films, although here he swaps the sun-baked backdrops of the earlier pair for the snowy expanses of a Native American reservation in Wyoming, a place where the cold is not just confined to the landscape, seeping into every corner of the characters' lives. After a series of films in which Jeremy Renner has felt decidedly miscast, he slips perfectly into the role of Cory Lambert, a wildlife officer, whose chief duty is to track down predators.

Unsurprisingly, it is he that comes across the latest unfortunate 'prey' as he is out on the trail of a mountain lion clan - this time not a farm animal but a woman who we have seen in the opening sequence racing barefoot through the snow as though her life depended on it in a gripping sequence that recalls a similar scene in Attanarjuat: The Fast Runner. He has a connection to the dead girl Natalie (Kelsey Asbille), an 18-year-old who was once friends with his daughter and who, it turns out, has been brutally raped.

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This is an old-fashioned story, with characters that are instantly familiar, from Cory's strong, mostly silent frontiersman with a tragedy in his past to the city fish-out-of-water FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olson) who is sent to help him and old guard reservation cop (Graham Greene). Although, Sheridan initially treats Jane playfully, using her incongruous outfit, complete with high heels, as a source of humour, he never forgets she is competent at what she does. She may not have the skill set of Cory, but the pair of them are soon shown to be more than able to work in tandem as Sheridan subverts some of the mismatched cop expectations.

The structure of the film is particularly interesting, in that Sheridan loops round to the night of the crime quite late in the day. This means that before that the characters have time to develop and we form an attachment to them, so the well-handled action snaps firmly into place when it comes. What is most unusual about Wind River, however, is its mood. Although the thriller elements grip, there is also a tear-jerking side to this film that keeps emotions running close to the surface, a technique that put me in mind of the similarly chilly but tense Frozen River. The film is well-served by its genre action sequences but it's the traces of grief that linger longest, like footsteps in the snow.

Reviewed on: 10 Apr 2017
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An FBI agent teams with the town's veteran game tracker to investigate a murder that occurred on a Native American reservation.
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Frozen River