“Wind River” is a film to break a critic’s heart: beautifully acted, brilliantly written and absolutely gripping—yet the modest pedigree and hype-free promotion may prevent this masterpiece from getting the recognition it deserves.
To put it simply, "Wind River" is the best new movie I have seen this year.
Yours truly has moaned repeatedly in this space about the many trite, witless and outlandish scripts coming out of Hollywood these days; but I don’t think you’ll ever hear such complaints about Taylor Sheridan.
With the well-reviewed “Sicario” (2015), last year’s terrific “Hell or High Water” and now this letter-perfect thriller, Sheridan is becoming the go-to man for intelligent, lifelike, explosively exciting cinema.
It just so happens that Sheridan also makes his directorial debut on “Wind River,” which stars Jeremy Renner as a conservation officer helping an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) investigate a young woman’s death on a desolate Indian Reservation in Wyoming.
Turns out Renner’s officer is also a crack shot who picks off coyotes and cougars preying on local livestock; and he had a daughter who long ago died in much the same way as the principal victim here. Plus, he’s an expert at reading tracks and clues—not to mention piloting a snowmobile at death-defying speeds.
All of which makes him invaluable to Olsen’s agent as the two—along with the woefully understaffed local sheriff, nicely played by Graham Greene—get in way over their heads.
Yet “Wind River” isn’t some sort of twisty thriller that always wants to stay one step ahead of you. That is not the way Sheridan works. As in “Hell or High Water,” he keys so keenly on character and theme that when the violence erupts, it seems apt, organic, logical—yet at the same time, just as shocking and devastating as bloodshed should feel.
The film’s brutality—which includes a horrific rape—is never cheap. Several times I found myself getting choked up, because the script and the acting create such vivid authenticity that you could swear this was happening to people you actually know.
Renner and Olsen are mesmerizing, while Sheridan’s screenplay contains exchanges like this:
Young thug: “I get so mad I wanna fight the whole world. Got any idea what that feels like?”
Renner: “Yeah. But I decided to fight the feeling instead. Because I figured the world would win.”
On top of its blazing action and heartfelt humanity, “Wind River” is one crime thriller that’s actually about something:
With a focus on the plight of Native Americans—including young Indian women, on whom missing-persons statistics are nonexistent—“Wind River” highlights the heroic determination to accept loss and suffering without giving up.
And without inflicting your misery on others.
Both gut-wrenching and hopeful, both meditative and heart-stopping, both real and artful, “Wind River” is an absolute triumph.
Don't miss it.
directed by Taylor Sheridan
Run time: 107 min.
* * * * (out of four)
Rated R for strong violence, a rape, disturbing images and language