Sundance 2017: Complex Storytelling in Superb Snow Noir 'Wind River'
by Alex Billington
January 22, 2017
I'm just going to come right out and say it here right at the beginning - Taylor Sheridan is one of the best screenwriters working today. It's not even debatable. And with Wind River, he shows that he is just as capable and talented at directing as well. Wind River is the feature directorial debut of screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (of Sicario and Hell or High Water previously) telling a riveting murder mystery in the snowy mountains of Wyoming. Sheridan's screenplay is brilliant, filled with metaphors and truthful characters and twists and turns and thrilling moments, all intertwined within themes of grief and vengeance and survival and good-vs-evil. It's topped off by fine performances from the entire cast, making this an invigorating film.
Wind River follows Jeremy Renner as Cory Lambert, a rugged, emotionless wildlife hunter for the Bureau of Land Management in Wyoming. He discovers a girl frozen to death in the snow, and thus begins the story at hand. Young FBI agent Jane Banner, played by Elizabeth Olsen, arrives unprepared for the rural world that she must navigate in an attempt to figure out what happened to her. The murdered woman was a Native American from the Wind River Reservation, which means Tribal Police are involved in the investigation as well. There are so many more characters that appear and play a part, and it's engrossing to watch Sheridan work them into this noir story. Every single one feels authentic, and so real, which makes a big difference.
What I love about Sheridan's screenplays are how he balances many complex, nuanced ideas about choices and consequences within each and every scene. Not only that, but all of the characters are completely real - they have emotions, they respond in the right way, they react to everything accurately. They're not fake or exaggerated. This allows for the storytelling to become even more gripping, more engaging, pulling viewers in and keeping their attention. As tired as I was watching this film at Sundance, it kept me awake the entire time. The film stays on pace, never dwindling too long in any scene, and never gets convoluted or confusing. The cinematography by Ben Richardson is also exquisite, capturing the snow-covered landscapes perfectly.
While I wouldn't say Wind River is better than Hell or High Water or Sicario, more than anything it shows that Taylor Sheridan is as talented of a director as he is a screenwriter, and he is going to get even better after this. I can't wait to see what he makes next, and he's going to learn how to direct better with each film he makes. Wind River is, at its core, a murder mystery that Sheridan has beefed up with some exceptional complexities that make it much more exciting than other stories like this. There are a few overt connections but he makes them work, and the payoff at the end is worth it. This might be one of Renner's best films. And the most I can do is encourage film fans support Sheridan's work and see this film, it won't disappoint you.
Alex's Sundance 2017 Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing