After making waves writing the acclaimed screenplays for 2015’s Sicario and 2016’s Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan wraps up his thematic trilogy exploring the modern American frontier with Wind River. A chilling thriller that marks his debut as a writer-director.
During a bitter winter on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, the body of local Native American teenager Natalie Hanson (Kelsey Asbille) is discovered by Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a veteran game tracker who’s adept at hunting predators. The FBI sends in Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), who quickly finds herself out of her depth in her new brutal surroundings as she’s typically based in Las Vegas. With his sharp tracking skills and knowledge of his environment, Cory agrees to aid Agent Banner. We later discover why Cory feels compelled to help and the connection he shares with the victim’s father Martin Hanson (Gil Birmingham).
As expected Sheridan’s script is once again taut and crisp, flickering between realistic and profound, with a light dusting of comedy. For every thrilling set piece, there’s an understated but just as engrossing conversation, with no fat to be trimmed in between. A swift change of perception deep into the film reveals a flashback without stalling and is executed with precision. Showcasing Sheridan’s seemingly natural flair for directing, with Wind River hopefully the first of many outings he’ll multitask on.
The flashes of subtle brilliance Renner exhibited in last year’s Arrival are on full show throughout. Demonstrating his ability to carry a film as he did so superbly in 2009’s The Hurt Locker. As an outsider, Olsen’s Agent Banner grapples with unfamiliar territory and has less to do throughout, but satisfyingly adapts as she balances inexperience with unwavering tenacity. Olsen and Renner accompany each other well onscreen, sinking their teeth into leading roles after getting somewhat lost in the shuffle within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Not quite surpassing its loosely connected predecessors, Wind River remains a satisfying and fitting end to Taylor Sheridan’s trilogy.