Taylor Sheridan is a wonderful screenwriter in his own right, as the startling thrillers Sicario and Hell or High Water both contest. However, he’s a terrible writer of film titles. From the idiomatic blandness of Hell or High Water to the latest flatulence of Wind River.
Fortunately, the latter – his debut as a director – is a solid modern day western in the No Country For Old Men mould, although the bleak wintry waste of Wyoming turns out to be No Country for Young Women. One such Native American woman is found frozen dead and barefoot by local wildlife employee Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner). The young woman turns out to be the daughter of a friend (Gil Birmingham) and the similar circumstances surrounding the death of his own daughter means that when Elisabeth Olsen’s FBI agent Jane Banner turns up under-dressed and overwhelmed, he decides to tag along and help bring the killers to justice.
The trail leads them through the reservation – with its social problems of drugs, criminality and social exclusion pithily presented – and up into the wild. Here, Cory is the expert and Jane’s role is confined to hanging onto the back of his snowmobile for dear life as he throttles through the snow. The investigation doesn’t allow her much scope to use her skills as one clue leads succinctly to the next. There are surprisingly few twists and turns, instead like Cory the film doggedly follows the tracks. In apparent recognition of this, the film abandons mystery and reveals all with an expository flashback, sneakily edited into a tense stand off.
Jeremy Renner confirms himself as a very respectable action lead – a kind of squashed Steve McQueen if you will – despite the misstep of his Jason Bourne effort. His Corey is a quiet professional, a rugged sober man who is not afraid to show his sensitive side, as when he commiserates with the father of the murdered girl by baring his own grief. Olsen has less to do, but she manages with the thankless task of following Renner around and agreeing to follow his advice. The underwriting isn’t confined to her character. The motivations and actions of the villains also appear to be random and the sudden escalation of violence doesn’t make much sense except for providing us with a slickly realised set-piece.
This remains a satisfying and entertaining work from Sheridan. The portrayal of a forgotten American community – albeit from the point of view of a white saviour – at least gives some visibility to an isolated part of the country. Though it can’t bear too much comparison with Sicario, Wind River is far better than its title suggests and a promising directorial debut.