Taylor Sheridan has been making a name for himself as a writer over the past couple of years with the films, Sicario and Hell or High Water, but he takes a hand at directing his own script for the first time with Wind River to positive results.
Wind River is a contemporary western, or neo-western, that takes place in Native American territory in the mountains of Wyoming. Jeremy Renner plays Cory Lambert, a hunter who is employed by a Native American rancher who has some livestock killed by a mountain lion. While tracking down the lion, Lambert stumbles upon a body deep in the wilderness, and a hunt for the killer ensues.
What follows is a well-made, but unfortunately straightforward western/crime film that focuses more on the latter until the tail end of the film. While not his debut, Wind River is only the second film directed by Sheridan, and while well put together, it doesn’t feel like it has any distinct touches to it. This is likely due to inexperience, but in some ways this film feels like it could have been directed by anyone. While that is most definitely not a bad thing, it is not necessarily a good thing either. This aspect of the film combined with mostly straightforward plot leads to a film that is satisfying upon completion, yet somewhat difficult to recall.
When trying to come up with solid details, I would have trouble trying to describe certain elements of the film. This is in stark contrast to last weeks, Good Time, which due to its very distinct style to go with a unique story made for a film that was far easier to remember, despite both films likely falling very close to each other in terms of overall quality and satisfaction.
Having said that, there is no question that Wind River is well made. It has a few striking visuals that take place in the wild mountains of Wyoming, and the lead characters are very interesting as well, and they end up carrying the film. Renner is joined by talented Olsen sister, Elizabeth, and the two of them form a nice duo for the audience to accompany throughout the film. Both have interesting stories to tell, with Renner’s character having some significant developments and moments throughout the film- particularly when it comes to his relationships with the Native American citizens of Wind River.
Each of the Native Americans that appear on the screen have interesting stories to tell, and in many ways, this film is about them, and not the murder case. It takes time to focus on the disenfranchisement of the Native American people of Wind River as they struggle with having to simultaneously retain the traditions of their peoples and families while trying to fit into a modern way of living in the U.S.
Being a western, this film has themes that are prevalent to the genre outside of fabulous shots of the mountains. The most important concept for this film is the idea of justice, and how different groups of people seek it out when they live on the fringes of society either geographically or socially. The idea that one has to make their own justice is prevalent in this film, and plays a major part in the latter third as it approaches its conclusion. As with much of the rest of the film, the conclusion itself is a bit predictable, yet still satisfying.
Overall, this is a quality western, and those are hard to come by these days. As the years have gone by, the westerns have fallen out of favor with mainstream audiences and more niche audiences alike. As a result, the genre has had to redefine itself and evolve over the past couple of decades, and Wind River has a definite part in that redefinition project. The western is no longer about a film that takes place on the wild frontiers of the U.S. as people spread westward. Instead, it takes place in the modern day, yet many of the elements that defined western life persist to this day, and it is those core elements that have allowed the western genre to stick around and find new life in the 21st century. Anyone who is a fan of that genre cannot afford to miss this film.