Taylor Sheridan has become the next great filmmaker to follow. After writing the script for Sicario (2015) and his Oscar-nominated work on Hell or High Water (2016), he follows those up with his first effort at both directing and writing with Wind River, and for me personally, while I thought Sicario was one of the more tense movies of that year and Hell or High Water was multi-nominated last year for many categories and one of the best of the year regardless, Wind River surpasses them both by taking the best elements of both films: the quippy, memorable characters and dialogue from Hell or High Water and the ever-building tension of Sicario into a package that really delivers.
Wind River follows Cory Lambert, a hunter who lives near the Wind River Native American Reservation who is called out to kill a mountain lion who is killing cattle. As a storm arrives, Lambert finds not a lion, but a corpse, that of Natalie, a friend of his deceased daughter’s. FBI agent Jane Banner is called in from Las Vegas to help the local authorities in the case. A relatively inexperienced agent, Banner immediately turns to Lambert, who willings lends himself to helping her and tribal police chief Ben track down those responsible for Natalie’s death.
While the story isn’t anything extraordinary, I can say that the characters in the movie are. First off, Lambert is a fully realized character as portrayed by Jeremy Renner in a wining performance that should be thought of come Oscar-time. Probably the best of his career, while I’m at it. Also good is Elizabeth Olsen as Banner, and it’s nice to see two MCU actors getting a break and working together on a thriller like this one. Also, wonderful job by Graham Greene, who is always a pleasure to see on-screen. Even Jon Bernthal, who only gets one scene, does a nice job of establishing a character who we remember. Also Gil Birmingham, whose role in Hell or High Water as Jeff Bridge’s long-suffering partner, is given a smaller role here as Natalie’s father, but gives just as impressive a performance as the last film. Again, just a couple of scenes is all he gets but he makes the most of them. Undoubtedly the film’s two great strengths, I’ve alluded to them, are the script and the tension. Almost from the get, Sheridan has a keen eye for shots and scenarios that make us wonder what’s going to happen next, whether it’s just a scene-setting shot of the landscape or a door getting ready to be opened, we get the tension that what we cut to next might just be a disaster for our characters. I have to say, if you’re interested in seeing this movie, please do so while it’s in theater. Don’t wait for it on DVD or Redbox. The in-theater sound that fills the whole auditorium helps the movie. Without it, the small screen sound won’t give you the same experience. So I’ve talked about all of this, but what’ll stick with me from the movie is the dialogue. Whether it’s Cory saying “Luck don’t live out here” or Ben saying, “You have to drive fifty miles around to go five. Welcome to Wyoming”, Sheridan has indeed proved with his last three scripts that he’s a filmmaker to look out for. Hopefully he is indeed rewarded for his work here.
Really the only complaint one can have about the film is that the story doesn’t have enough characters or plot developments to make it into a full-fledged mystery. Yet I don’t think that’s what Sheridan is going for here. No, he’s just telling a story, that’s based around actual events as we learn from the opening, that I think he turns into a strength. As we learn from an end title card, any Native Americans that go missing are not included in national surveys, so there’s no way of knowing just how many teen, women, and children from the Native American community that are missing. That’s shocking, for one, but also a point that exonerates a potential pitfalls: the fact that Banner continually turns to Lambert and the lesser authorities despite her being above them. I’ve heard some complain that Sheridan leaves Banner to be a character that has to be “man-splained” to, but he gets around this, first with the knowledge of Banner being out of her element. She says in the film she was born in Ft. Lauderdale and is stationed in Las Vegas, yet the film is set in Wyoming. Also it’s a statement about how the government, to this day, treats the Native Americans: they are pretty insensitive. They don’t care if a newbie goes on this job, and again the end title cards about those stats of the missing Native Americans really brings that home.
There have already been many spectacular films out this year so far, some of them being ones that I might mark up to be in the competition for best films of the decade, and this one goes right in there. Wind River takes the positives of Taylor Sheridan’s latest works and puts them in a blender, and reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino who, in my opinion, made a wonderful western with Django Unchained (2012), then took the strengths of that film and perfected them as best he could in The Hateful Eight (2015), this is one of the better things I like to see out of filmmaking: a director, or in both cases writer/director, taking his or her craft to the next level by realizing you’ve gotten things right and taking them even further next time. I seriously can’t wait to see what this guy’s got coming up next. If Wind River‘s any sign, it’ll be amazing.
My rating: 10/10.