Wind River Review: Jeremy Renner in a snowy crime thriller

Wind River (2017) Review
Director: Taylor Sheridan
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Graham Greene, Julia Jones, Kelsey Asbille

Wind River is a crime drama from the same writer as ‘Hell or High Water’. I like how Wind River captures the somber mood given the nature of the crime and the harsh realities of life on an Indian reservation. The heavy dramatic tone is tempered with personal moments as characters connect with one another. In writer/director Taylor Sheridan’s script, humanity is disturbingly depraved but also the spirit which perseveres through suffering and loss.

Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is a wildlife officer/huntsman in Wyoming who discovers the body of a frozen, barefooted and brutalized 18 year old Native American woman. Renner’s strong performance carries the weight of a man who’s experienced intense loss in his life but has not given into despair. The screenplay gives Renner moments in every scene to bring to life the wisdom, vulnerability, strength and sadness in his character.  Without giving too much away, Lambert’s back story forms the connective tissue for Wind River and makes it clear why he goes out his way to assist the FBI.

Elizabeth Olsen plays Jane Banner, a FBI agent flown in to investigate the crime along side the sarcastic yet wise Sheriff Ben (Graham Greene). The story does a good job of showing that even though Banner is capable and determined to seek justice, she is out of her element in the snowy Wyoming wilderness. Banner is a relatively young agent from a big urban city. She comes into town totally unprepared for the cold winter conditions; however, she does have other traits that serve her well. Instead of being arrogant, she recognizes her limitations and readily accepts the help of Lambert who’s an expert at tracking down predators in the wild. Jeremy Renner has stronger material to work with although Olsen’s performance is dependably good too.

Wind River is a mediation on the will to survive. The theme is explored through several characters including the victim’s family as they go through the shock and grief of losing a child. Wind River personalizes the loss. The victim Natalie Hanson is not nameless or faceless, neither is her father, mother, and brother. The screenplay doesn’t treat Natalie like a mere plot device. As the story unfolds and the truth revealed, it honors Natalie and is a testament to how she survived as long as she did in the frozen wilderness.

“Hell or High Water” is the stronger film but I still recommend Wind River when you’re in the mood for something that’s a bit desolate. Taylor Sheridan is also the same writer behind ‘Sicario’. Where Sicario ends on a really dark note, Wind River has a silver lining tinged with hope which suits the ‘will to survive’ theme. Like Sicario, Wind River features some unsettling violence. In terms of shortcomings, there are some moments that can be nitpicked for being a little too on the nose. As well, the action scenes could use a more technically experienced director. Overall, Wind River is a competent crime drama with a consistent tone and a satisfying resolution. I will definitely continue to look out for upcoming movies from the same writer.

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