‘Wind River’ will chill your heart



Elizabeth Olson stars as FBI Agent Jane Banner in the new crime drama “Wind River,” directed by Taylor Sheridan. The film has received critical acclaim and currently carries an 86 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

CLINTON OLSASKY, Executive Editor | [email protected]

A young woman runs, distraught, across a vast, snowy wasteland, as the hypnotic words of a poem ominously reverberate against the wintery landscape. This, the opening scene of Taylor Sheridan’s new murder mystery “Wind River,” serves as only a brief preview of the pain and suffering that mark many of the individuals’ lives throughout the rest of the film.

“Wind River,” which takes place in the Native American reservation of the same name in Wyoming, revolves around the mysterious death of Natalie Hanson, an 18-year-old girl whose frozen body is discovered in the wilderness by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Agent Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner).

From there, Lambert assists visiting FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizebth Olsen) in solving the apparent murder, all while painful memories from Lambert’s past continue to haunt him.

Directing: 5/5

Taylor Sheridan, who wrote the screenplay for the critically acclaimed crime thrillers “Sicario” (2015) and “Hell or High Water” (2016), assumes the director’s chair this time around for the similarly-themed “Wind River.” Along with “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water,” “Wind River” operates as an intensely violent and emotionally moving final chapter in Sheridan’s de-facto crime trilogy.

Sheridan’s directing style is not unlike his writing: visceral, poetic and challenging. He isn’t afraid to linger on certain shots, forcing the viewer to fully absorb the breathtakingly stark landscapes that all too often engulf his characters.

In fact, these static compositions often serve as visual representations for the lack of agency that typifies many of the characters in the film – for example, Lambert’s inability to move past his painful memories.

At the same time, Sheridan injects the otherwise leisurely-paced “Wind River” with short bursts of intensity and violence. These isolated sequences of frenetic action feel entirely alien when juxtaposed with the restrained pace with which Sheridan allows the majority of his film to unfold.

And perhaps that’s the point. After all, violence of any sort should come across as alien to us. Sheridan simply communicates this truth in “Wind River” through carefully crafted visual compositions.

Writing: 4/5

With “Sicario,” “Hell or High Water” and now “Wind River,” Sheridan has proven himself to be one of the most talented screenwriters working today.

Although his films often take place within bleak and violent worlds where moral corruption runs rampant, his characters, while flawed, still remain deeply human.

This is clearly evident through Renner’s Cory Lambert, who receives several layers of emotional complexity thanks to Sheridan’s deft and intelligent writing. While Lambert initially appears as the morally righteous and upstanding local law enforcement agent, Sheridan complicates him through the aforementioned trauma that continues to haunt him from his past.

Much of the film’s supporting cast is similarly presented as round and relatively complex characters – in other words, human beings.

The only complaint one could make with Sheridan’s screenplay is how little the film explores Jane Banner’s backstory, which does somewhat limit her character’s emotional depth. However, Olsen more than makes up for this slight narrative misstep with a generally terrific and convincing performance. 

Acting: 5/5

In addition to Olsen, Renner delivers one of his most impressive performances in recent memory – likely his best since his star-making turn in 2009’s Best Picture recipient “The Hurt Locker.”

Renner fully commits to the emotional complexity that defines his character, resulting in a truly harrowing and heartrending portrayal of an individual adversely affected by loss. In a way, then, by virtue of Renner’s performance, “Wind River” becomes a poignant examination of grief and the never-ending struggle to overcome past trauma.

Other standouts from the cast include Gil Birmingham as Martin Hanson, the grieving father of the recently deceased Natalie, and Julia Jones in a small, but pivotal role as Wilma Lambert, Cory’s estranged wife. 

Overall: 4.5/5

From the outset, “Wind River” sets itself apart from other murder mysteries and police procedurals through its poetic and ethereal tone. Although interrupted at times by highly intense and tautly scripted shootouts and fight scenes, the large majority of the film unfolds carefully and thoughtfully. As a result, the misery, pain and anguish that invade many of the characters’ lives are allowed to resonate more plainly.

In short, “Wind River” moves with the emotional weight of its characters. The film’s slow and deliberate pace is not unlike that of the titular river, swallowing us up in our grief and carrying us away in one last gust of air.