Wind River: NZIFF Review
After astounding with scripts for Sicario and the much appreciated Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan slips into the directing chair for the helming of his own script for Wind River.
Centring on an Indian Reservation where the bloodied body of a raped woman is found 6 miles from anywhere and in the middle of the frozen wastes of Wyoming, Wind River follows the investigation into the crime.
With a rookie FBI agent Jane Banner (Elisabeth Olsen) called in from Vegas, and a US fish and wildlife marksman Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) deputised into help, the case finds the intricacies of Native American problems and guilt from the past all intertwined...
Inspired by actual events, Wind River has some truly astonishing visuals in among the white-outs of the snow.
From Lambert's snowmobile making its way through the wastelands like an insignificant speck to blood on the ice, Sheridan's eye for scale and shocking is clearly evident.
It's essentially a tale of the evil men do and at times, Olsen's vulnerable agent is clearly out of her depth. Thrown into a case in an area she's ill-equipped for (from experience and even down to clothes), she barely gathers speed as the agent in charge, deferring to Lambert's prior skills. It's perhaps here that Sheridan's script revels more in the intricacies of the gender politics and the gender divide that's clearly at play elsewhere in the film, but it does occasionally make Olsen's character seem woefully clueless and ultimately, a bit wasted.
A little richer perhaps is Renner's Lambert, a mournful man whose mopiness masks a past tragedy. Renner makes great fist of the melancholia and feels restrained in parts as Lambert tries to fit into a community that is occasionally willing to accept him and is other times willing to cast him out. It's no surprise that he's camouflaged in the wilderness; Sheridan wastes no allusions in his script.
Underpinning all of this is a thinly veiled diatribe against treatment of Native Americans (one line asks "Why is it when you people try to help, it starts with insults") and a searing but not excoriating commentary on the social ills of such a reservation. And it's perhaps here why Sheridan's script feels lacking in power compared to the likes of Hell Or High Water that felt more precise in their barbs and more subtle in their treatment.
Wind River is unfortunately a minor disappointment from Sheridan.
Stretched out over 2 hours, the film's final reveal and treatment of its perpetrator is nothing more than the unveiling of a raving lunatic steeped in ugliness, and given the steps and themes taken through the snow-laden film to set out an icy veneer and a sliver of gender issues and native concerns, its desire to plump for the shocking yet stereotype feels like a cheap squandering of promise.
More a lilting ode than the searing story Sheridan's set out before, this icy Western does hit the spot, but Wind River never quite reaches the highs you'd expect, and despite solid work from its leads and Longmire's Graham Greene as the tribal sheriff, it's not as spectacular as you'd hope.