“Wind River” is the directorial debut of one of my favorite screenwriters, Taylor Sheridan of “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water” fame, and even if it’s not quite as good as the 2016 best film of the year “Hell or High Water,” what is really? It’s at least as good as “Sicario” and features a strong Jeremy Renner performance, a twisty plot, an explosive action sequence, beautiful cinematography, and Sheridan’s trademark finesse mixing comedy, thrills, and drama.
What Works: On TV, shows like “Breaking Bad” regularly mix laugh-out-loud humor, devastating drama, and heart-stopping suspense, but movies have been a little slow to pick up on the fact that just because you’re doing a genre doesn’t mean it should be only that genre. “Wind River” has moments of such wry humor or slow-burning drama, that when the climax comes—and it comes abruptly—it’s even more jarring, a show-stopping set-piece that blends seamlessly into the past and present. The murder of a Native American girl may technically be a Mystery, but the way it’s revealed defies whatever you’re thinking, and there’s real skill in the structure of it.
Also, Jeremy Renner was one of the strongest rising-stars out there when “The Hurt Locker” and “The Town” came out, but has been somewhat sidelined by thankless roles in Comic-Con junk like “The Avengers” or the atrocious “Hansel And Gretel: Witch Hunters” which sounds like it was thought up by a marketing executive taking a dump, and everybody said “Yeah, pre-existing property in ‘new’ setting! Genius!” Here, he gets to be an actor again and delivers a subtle, moving performance as a professional game hunter who wants to help solve this murder only to kill whoever did it. [His reasons are too good to spoil.] Sheridan is doing something interesting with vigilante justice, making Renner less a Rambo-esque badass than a wounded man in incredible pain who hunts predators (of all types) to keep others from having to experience that pain.
What Doesn’t: I don’t know if Elizabeth Olson is slightly miscast or the role is just a little under-written, but she doesn’t have nearly the depth Renner does, and probably won’t leave you with as strong an impression. Also, even though I loved the mystery’s resolution and unconventional structure, hard-core mystery fans may feel a little let-down by something this unique and abrupt.
What I Would Have Done Differently: “Wind River” is a quiet movie that sneaks up on you, and to be honest, it actually got much stronger the more I thought about it. Some may leave the theater slightly disappointed, and then find they actually like the movie more days later. It’s a strong film, one of the year’s best, and you should go see it.