Following his Oscar-nominated script for “Hell or High Water” and critically acclaimed “Sicario,” writer, now director, Taylor Sheridan has quickly become the master of modern day suspense thrillers. “Wind River” is the third consecutive script focusing on law enforcement. However, each film showcases an offshoot of the police force uncommonly presented on the big screen. “Sicario” was a specific division of drug narcotics within the FBI, “Hell or High Water” focuses on Texas Rangers and “Wind River,” the most unusual yet, Tribal Police, FBI and federal land security protection. Sheridan’s perfect blend of suspense and rowdy humor is again present, but far outside of Texas this time. Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen and Graham Greene, form a tough-as-nails posse that pull the audience deep into the circumstance of the story.
Wyoming veteran game hunter Cory Lambert (Renner) finds a teenage girl murdered deep in the snowy woods, on an Indian Reservation. The closest FBI agent is Jane Banner (Olsen), flown in from Las Vegas, completely unprepared for the deadly weather. “I hunt predators,” Lambert responds when the novice questions his involvement. “Come hunt one for me then,” she replies, admitting she is completely out of her league in this snowy tundra. He encourages her to focus on the signs instead of typical clues. Lambert’s involvement is more personal than Banner realizes, having lost his own daughter a few years ago. Going 80 mph on a snowmobile to one of the most remote and isolated terrains in America leads these two investigators into a web of murky law enforcement protocol where luck has nothing to do with survival.
Sheridan is as good at character development as he is at helping the viewer understand the land where his stories are set. “Wind River” isn’t simply a crime thriller, it’s a window into the lives of marginalized Americans who are rarely featured in motion pictures. Sheridan and cinematographer Ben Richardson (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) propel the audience from chair to hopeless snowy community. “This isn’t the land of backup. This is the land of you’re on your own.” Like his previous original screenplays, Sheridan taps into something far deeper than surface value, he is an American filmmaker that understands types of characters and people that are lacking from the world of cinema, and he brings them to life with stark contrast and realism.
The eerie score of “Wind River” isn’t as present, memorable or powerful as with “Sicario” or “Hell or High Water,” but it still aids in the suspense and icy shiver. It wouldn’t be a Sheridan film without great casting, and Avengers alumni Renner (“The Hurt Locker”) and Olsen (Godzilla) are magnificent. Renner’s quiet calculation and internal sadness is nailed in every scene, the way he avoids eye contact with the people he speaks to. Speaking of eyes, Olsen’s wide-eyed eager pupils speak truth when she explains she’s the only hope this community has at solving this case. One of the particulars I enjoy about in Sheridan’s scripts is romantic love is always kept off the menu, while he certainly explores other kinds. I found my hands clapping at certain moments and fist pumping at others, “Wind River” is such an engaging, rare film that draws you in so deeply you forget everything but what’s on screen.
Final thought — Sheridan makes it three in a row with “Wind River,” solidifying himself as one of the most substantial modern day American screenwriters.