08th Sep2017

‘Wind River’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Review by Matthew Turner

Stars: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Gil Birmingham, Graham Greene, Jon Bernthal, Julia Jones, Kelsey Asbille, James Jordan | Written and Directed by Taylor Sheridan


Avengers co-stars Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen headline this snowbound mystery thriller from Taylor Sheridan, the writer of Sicario and Hell or High Water. Gripping and moving in equal measure, it’s being billed as Sheridan’s “proper” directorial debut, which probably says everything you need to know about his actual debut, the little-seen 2011 horror flick Vile.

Set in the remote Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, the film opens with a young Native American woman (Kelsey Asbille) running for her life, barefoot, in sub-zero conditions in the wintery wilderness. When she’s found, frozen to death, an autopsy reveals that she was raped, prompting the arrival of Vegas-based FBI agent Jane Banner (Olsen), who teams up with Native American sheriff Ben (Greene) to investigate.

However, Banner quickly realises that she’s out of her depth, so she enlists the help of local game tracker Cory Lambert (Renner), who found the body, and who knows the area better than anyone. Meanwhile, Lambert discovers he has a personal connection to the case, as the victim was best friends with his own daughter, who was killed two years previously.

Radiating compassion, Renner delivers one of his best performances to date as Lambert – in particular, his scenes with Gil Birmingham (excellent as the victim’s grieving father) are extremely moving. Similarly, Olsen strikes an engaging balance between toughness and vulnerability, and it’s refreshing to see the chemistry in Banner’s relationship with Lambert without the script turning that into a physical thing. In addition, Graham Greene is good value as the world-weary sheriff, while Jon Bernthal continues his run of exceptional work with a memorable turn as the victim’s boyfriend.

Sheridan’s key strength as a writer-director is his evocative sense of place, particularly when it comes to depicting isolated communities, with Wind River memorably described as a place of “snow and silence”. To that end, there are echoes here of similar isolated community thrillers like Winter’s Bone and Frozen River, while the film also makes a worthy addition to the snowbound thriller sub-genre, alongside the likes of Fargo and A Simple Plan.

That said, it’s fair to say that the mystery itself is somewhat underwhelming – whether that’s by accident or design, there are no twists and turns, just the relatively straightforward identification of the guilty party, leading to a violent confrontation. That bleakness is further compounded by a flashback sequence that is both brutal and heart-breaking in equal measure.

Needless to say, Wind River looks spectacular throughout, with Ben Richardson’s crisp cinematography accentuating both the beauty and the terror of the stark, chilly landscapes – indeed, it’s so effective that it’s a wonder your teeth don’t start chattering in sympathy. The atmosphere is further heightened by a terrific score from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, reinforcing the underlying present-day Western elements of the story.

Superbly acted and strikingly shot, this is an emotionally gripping mystery that doubles as a haunting depiction of grief and injustice in a remote community. Here’s hoping Sheridan continues to write and direct.

**** 4/5

Wind River is in UK cinemas now.


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