Wind River. A Review
There are few people out there having a better couple years than Taylor Sheridan. He wrote one of my favorite movies of 2015 (Sicario). Then the next year in 2016 he wrote the surprise heist/Texas homage film Hell or High Water. It is no surprise that he would head into 2017 taking the next step and slipping behind the chair for his second directorial effort Wind River.(It looks like he made a shitty horror movie in 2011 called Vile) Sheridan has come a long way from his days playing a cop. I think I remember hating on Sons of Anarchy but with extra credit, comes extra blame. While Sheridan has proven he can write a great movie, his ability as a Director is still up for debate.
Before we get to all that, lets break down the basic plot a bit. Wind River takes place on and near the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) comes across the body of a young woman while hunting a mountain lion in the dead of winter. She has no shoes on, is barely dressed, and is miles off the beaten path. An FBI agent named Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olson) is called in to investigate but because of her lack of knowledge of the area and the people on the Reservation she enlists the help of Lambert to help her try to unravel the mystery that has fallen into both of their laps.
Both Sicario and Hell or High Water had excellent but yet grounded and larger than life characters. Wind River struggles to find the same success despite a great performance from it's lead. There are no bad actors in this movie (Actually the woman who plays Lambert's wife is a disaster) but none of the supporting characters seem to take any hold whatsoever. Instead of helping to flesh out the setting and provide us with an idea of what the people on this Reservation deal with they only feel like filler and emotional bait. Even Banner feels hollow compared to most of the characters in Sheridan's previous work, but he is able to repeat his success with Lambert. Some of the credit falls to the writing but even more should go to Mr. Jeremy Renner.
Jeremy Renner falls into a category with Jamie Foxx and Joel Edgerton as guys who are just so damn good every time out, that we sort of forget how great they really are. He makes this role look easy. The role is not necessarily and easy one to draw the viewer into. Lambert is a guy who is dealing with a difficult past by being stronger than his sorrow and Renner is able to show both of those sides of the character. I don't know if I can say that this is the best role of his career, but it sure is something meatier for him to handle than his past few years of shooting a bow in front of a green screen and Bourneing it up. Renner brings so much here and even though I don't think his performance will get much attention come awards season, it will be one I wont forget anytime soon.
One way that Wind River is able to live up to some of the hype of Sheridan's previous successes are in the intensity of some of the scenes. If you have never seen Sicario, just quickly go check out the border shootout scene (There are no spoilers and its only about 4 minutes long. Link for the lazy) and you will know what I am talking about and probably immediately go see Sicario. There are some stretches of Wind River that get a bit dull but they are supplemented with a few really great, tense scenes. Along with that come Sheridan's knack to write you into a setting and make you feel like by the end, you had just spent a week in Wyoming.
From small facts about how lungs freeze when running in terribly cold weather and flood with fluid causing the victim to die before succumbing to the cold, to the way people talk to each other, you would think Sheridan grew up on a Reservation in Wyoming. Unfortunately Wind River struggles in the overall dialogue department. Badass lines lose some of the muster when the set up feels completely forced. Tying into the lack of good characters, there are almost no conversations that just exist to give us some subtle clues about a character. Instead they are filled with exposition and plot points.
I have brought up Taylor Sheridan's name a lot in this review, both because he is probably the reason I went to see Wind River, but also because when you are writing and directing a movie, lots of stuff falls onto your shoulders, both positively and negatively. While not as tight as Sicario and not as charming as Hell or High Water, Sheridan has done a fine job of writing Wind River. What really makes it the weakest movie of the three is the director. Sicario was directed by Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Prisoners, Blade Runner 2049) who is possibly one of the most talented directors in the world right now, and even though David Mackenzie does not have the filmography that Villeneuve has, was still able to nail the tone and characters of Hell or High Water perfectly.
Sheridan does not do a bad job directing, and it is really unfair to compare the guy to one of the most solid directors in the game. His inexperience hurt Wind River. He does not use the camera particularly well and I think fails to truly show the beauty and the ugliness of the fantastic setting. There are some things that just clearly don't make sense and the movie just moves on as if an FBI agent did not just see a woman in a room by herself slitting her wrists. Instead of doing something, anything to help the woman, the agent just starts looking over dramatically shocked just to nail down a lose piece of dialogue. It's moments like those that separate great movies from the okay ones. An inexperienced director can be the cause of many of these kinds of problems.
Wind River comes out just about even if we really want to review movies using math. Some stuff bugs me, some gets me excited. My expectations were in check when walking into the theater, and while I think that helped me to like this movie as much as I did, I can't help think that Wind River is not the best movie it can be. I liked the movie and will remember it as being fine but it is not one that I will demand my friends see and after a few months force them to watch it. This in no way ruins my opinion of Taylor Sheridan or his work previous or post Wind River. It is really hard to make a movie let alone a good one and that is what Wind River is, a good one. Unfortunately it is not a great one.