WIND RIVER Review: 7 out of 10 (Cold Case)
WIND RIVER is the latest pseudo-western written and directed by Taylor Sheridan. Sheridan's previous films HELL OR HIGH WATER and SICARIO were both on my Top 10 lists in their respective years. This is a weaker film, but still is a nice alternative to the noisy blockbuster and sequel system that Hollywood promotes. WIND RIVER stars Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen as a US Fish and Wildlife Service tracker and an FBI agent who try to solve a murder on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. After a young girl is found dead in the wilderness by Cory Lambert (Renner), the Wind River Reservation authorities are asked to investigate her death. When it seems apparent that her death was a murder, Agent Natalie Hanson (Olsen) is dispatched to the scene. Unfamiliar with the culture and lay of the land, Hanson recruits Lambert to assist her in uncovering the mystery of the young woman's death.
There isn't much of a mystery here, despite the script's best efforts to keep the audience in the dark. Sheridan's films are known for little exposition--dropping the audience into the narrative and allowing the gaps to be filled as it goes. This film does that a bit less successfully, but it still is a fresh alternative in terms of storytelling. Renner is solid here as the stoic Lambert who carries secrets of his own here. Part Marlboro Man and part fable telling therapist, there is a nice mix of toughness and grit with a side of sensitivity.The most disappointing part of WIND RIVER, unfortunately, is the character of Agent Natalie Hanson. Olsen does her best here, but Sheridan seems content to show female FBI agents as withering and weak. This was offered to lesser degrees in SICARIO, but here Olsen has no command of her emotions, cannot properly secure a crime scene, and impotently asks civilians for help. To begin, field agents are highly trained. The film suggests further that the FBI sent a "desk agent" into the field to handle this case because there was no one else to send. Again, this is a terribly uninformed position that the script writes itself into and only to have a character that needs to be saved by the hero, despite the fact that she *should* have far more training than he would have collected in his lifetime. No doubt any FBI agent watching this will alternate between eye-rolls and sniggers with this portrayal. I personally know several agents myself and did as much. Several second guessing on how this character might have been written more effectively could certainly be fodder for podcasts and a screenwriting course, but suffice to say this character never really works and even seems unnecessary to the story Sheridan is weaving.
Having said that, WIND RIVER still offers some great tension, fresh storytelling style, and a solid Renner performance. Graham Greene also has a nice turn here as the Reservation Police Chief and occasional sidekick. This movie is a good effort from a writer that (this reviewer hopes) has a great future ahead. If there are more pseudo-westerns coming from Sheridan to contribute to a dying genre, so much the better.