Film Review: Wind River

Writer/director Taylor Sheridan’s latest forms a trilogy of sorts with his scripts for Sicario (directed by Denis Villeneuve) and Hell Or High Water (directed by David Mackenzie), and offers fine, subtle work from Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen, both of course Avengers but here playing it admirably straight.

While Sicario and Hell Or High Water take place in the sweaty heat of the Mexican/US border and West Texas respectively, this instead plays out in the bitter cold of a Wyoming winter. It’s an oppressive and dangerous landscape captured beautifully by director of photography Ben Richardson and set to Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ brooding musical score.

Renner (a late-on replacement for Chris Pine) is professional tracker Cory Lambert, a man well-versed with the snowy wilds and introduced shooting wolves in what’s obviously intended as a warning of what’s to come. When he comes across a barefoot body in the snow (the terrified woman we see running for her life just before the opening credits), he recognises her as Natalie (Kelsey Asbille), a friend of his late teenage daughter who died a few years before. Renner’s quietly complex characterisation allows you to see that by doggedly seeking out Natalie’s killer Cory can finally let his own child rest.

Young FBI agent Jane Banner (Olsen) shows up unprepared for the chill and issues of cultural sensitivity as the investigation takes place on Native American lands, but Jane is no fool and this is one of Olsen’s best, toughest performances. She forms a team with Cory and police chief of the reservation Ben (played with droll humour by Graham Greene, a welcome stalwart of movies with Native American themes) and they venture into desolate areas where despair, drugs and violence run unchecked. Here it’s impossible not to think of Australia’s own isolated realms and dispossessed indigenous peoples.

Sheridan’s script sometimes feels just a touch talky, yet it’s what Wind River lacks that makes it so strong. We’re spared, for example, a forced, surely icky romance between Jane and Cory, even though it could probably happen, as Renner is a charismatic guy and Olsen is pretty damn lovely. Or could it? After what they witness here, they could just as well be so appalled that they wind up never wanting to see each other ever again.

Rated MA. Wind River is in cinemas now

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