Taylor Sheridan is one of the best new talents in Hollywood. When it comes to writing he does it better than a lot of his contemporaries. His scripts are tight as a drum and to the point with great command of timing, visuals, and dialog that is so far unmatched. I wish I saw Sicario and Hell or High Water when I was in writing school. There is so much you can learn from his work and Wind River is his first crack at directing. Does he have what it takes to realize his vision or should it have been left in the hands of a professional?
While tracking down predators that killed livestock on the Wind River Indian Reservation Cory, played by Jeremy Renner, stumbles upon the corpse of a young woman. When FBI Agent Banner, played by Elizabeth Olsen, comes to investigate, she must team up with Cory to help find the killer in the unforgiving wilderness.
With three movies to his name, you can easily spot a handful of signatures in Sheridan’s work. They are Neo-Westerns with modern themes that have an honest, yet nihilistic outlook on life. His films do not shy away from the reality of situations, including violence and the nature of humanity. In Sicario, the Drug War was regarded as a conflict that needed to be fought like an actual war, without concern for conventional law. Hell or High Water dealt with a pair of brothers fighting against the system that was consuming their rustic, old fashion reality in west Texas.
Wind River is about the relationship between man and nature, not unlike The Revenant, but more obvious and to the point. Other than Banner, Cory and many of the characters are used to living out in the middle of nowhere, in the naked heart of the wild. They understand their reality as plain as anyone who grew up in such rough terrain. It influences how they see law and order, especially on the reservation. You could say the whole movie is about what Amerindians deal with in their territory if you wanted to make it political (and you shouldn’t).
Before Banner comes into the story, we get an idea of life through Cory’s perspective. It is enough to go on until we are reminded that the world we know still exists outside the reservation. It becomes frontier justice versus bureaucracy, but more in the manner in which an investigation is conducted while dealing with the elements. It compounds the feeling of being a stranger in a strange land once Banner gets shot at and has to travel long distances to get anywhere.
Granted, this is nothing new to Westerns, but what matters is the execution. Sheridan took the idea of a city slicker going out west and modernized it. The idea of reservations fending for themselves in the face of crime and corporate exploitation in a harsh environment was the next logical step. He makes it easy to understand while using common tropes of the genre. Wind River has a lot in common with the show Longmire, which does the same thing, but is darker and more violent.
In terms of direction, the film is very standard and ordinary. There are some nice landscape shots and well constructed chaotic action scenes, yet it lacked the essential ingredient to set it apart from the norm. The movie did not have Villenuve’s aesthetic or Mackenzie’s cinematography like his last two. Sheridan’s strength is definitely his writing and he needs a little more practice directing to come into his own. That being said, I appreciate his use of practical effects. The environments seemed to be shot on location, there were real blanks in the guns, and real blood in the squibs. I have a good feeling he will continue this trend in the future.
Wind River would not stand out if Taylor Sheridan did not pen the script. The directing leaves much to be desired, but if you want a simple and honestly written Neo-Western look no further. I was pretty late in buying a ticket, so you better get to the theater as soon as possible. If you missed it, I cannot recommend Sicario and Hell or High Water highly enough.