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‘Wind River’ (review)

Produced by Elizabeth A. Bell, Peter Berg,
Matthew George, Basil Iwanyk, Wayne Rogers

Written and Directed by Taylor Sheridan
Starring Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen,
Gil Birmingham, Jon Bernthal, Julia Jones,
Kelsey Chow, Graham Greene

Hot on the heels of Sicario and Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan completes his thematic trilogy on the American Frontier with Wind River.

A gritty piece of crime cinema that features a terrific central performance from Jeremy Renner, but ultimately fails to litter the proceedings with enough smaller moments to add up to a truly memorable experience.

When a young Native American woman is found raped and frozen to death miles from her home on a decaying Wyoming reservation the size of Rhode Island, tribal police call the FBI for help in solving the crime.

Enter the closest available agent, fish-out-of-water rookie Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) fresh from Vegas. She enlists fellow Avenger…err…U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hunter Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) to act as her guide and tracker. For Lambert it’s an opportunity to deal vicariously with a past trauma that shattered his world.

Stepping behind the camera this go around, Taylor Sheridan does a fantastic job of creating a mood and sense of place. A certain bleakness that threatens to swallow everything in its path. Desolate stretches of white pocked with houses in disrepair, unforgiving terrain, and schizophrenic weather conditions that demand to be respected, unless survival isn’t your thing.

But whereas Sicario suffered from the seeming lack of a third act, Wind River nails it. Yet feels shallow in its second. While competently hitting the major beats that advance the story, the nuances that elevated his previous efforts, especially Hell or High Water, are sorely absent. And in return makes the whole affair seem rather routine in its delivery.

That’s not to say there aren’t powerful moments. There are. And when they hit, they hit hard and resonate. Highlighted by a heartbreaking scene between Renner and Gil Birmingham (as terrific here as he was as Jeff Bridge’s partner in Hell or High Water) as two parents at opposite stages in the grieving process.

As a father whose steadfast composure masks an emotional pain that cuts deep, Jeremy Renner thrives in what could be his best performance to date. Unfortunately, Elizabeth Olsen doesn’t fair nearly as well with a thinly drawn character that plays like a deer in constant headlights and an FBI skill set that is second to everyone. And it’s that contrast in characterization that prevents it from becoming as captivating as it had the potential to be.

With Wind River, Sheridan once again proves he is a man of the people and places they go, while almost treating plot as a necessary evil. He’s a more than capable director that falls shy of making it over the high bar he’s set for himself, but I look forward to his next effort.

 

 

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