Taylor Sheridan has already become a massive Hollywood player. His work writing films such as Sicario and Hell or High Water have landed him a multitude of acclaim and adulation. Receiving a multitude of awards and nominations, the actor turned writer and director has become one of the best behind the scene talents of late. No, wait, of all time. Taylor Sheridan is one of the greatest writers of all time.
The snow-covered spiritual cousin of Hell or High Water is landing in cinemas this week. Whilst not Taylor Sheridan’s directorial debut (that honour goes to horror film Vile in 2011,) it is certainly a confident and tense piece, showcasing what Sheridan does best: heart-thudding realistic action.
Set on Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Marshall Cory Lambert stumbles upon the beaten, raped, and frozen body of young woman, Natalie Hansom. Knowing the girl through the close knit community, it becomes Cory’s mission to hunt down the murderers. As FBI Agent Jane Banner is enlisted to track down those who led Natalie to her death, the pair come across an unforgiving landscape and an uncooperative town.
Jeremy Renner is outstanding in this role as Cory Lambert. Here, Renner delivers what can only be described as one of the greatest performances of the year. I’d be surprised if he didn’t get nominated for the big roles here, he deserves it. As Lambert, he is an astute and detail orientated man who happens to be driven by love and compassion for his community. All this evolves through Renner’s work as he courses through grief, sorrow, anger, rage, and cool vengeance. Venturing over icy wastelands of harsh, bitter snow, he is this heated hunter unable to stop until he finds a culprit. In scenes he commands a wrought and attentive quiet persona, yet in others coaxes unbridled grief. Renner is superb in this definitive role.
Playing opposite him is the gifted Elizabeth Olsen whose Clarice Starling approach to investigation is only deepened by the male entourage around her. As the narrow focused and initially emotionally detached FBI outsider, her role as Banner is to uncover the facts whilst also gaining the trust of the Reservation. Whilst this is certainly Renner’s vehicle, Olsen is impeccably on point here, filtering the chemistry between the pair that sparked in the Avengers franchise. As she wanders the abyss of white, unprepared for investigation, the unease of the distrusting population around her adds another layer of tension.
Sheridan skillfully weaves a tale is perhaps more human in its nature than the aforementioned Sicario or Hell or High Water. Ultimately, the film is about the people and those characters, so terrifically played by Olsen and Renner, drive this chilling spectacle. Snow becomes hindrance, a cruel killer to the unprepared, it sweeps so morosely on screen to underscore the slow yet powerful action. Sheridan is accomplished here: pulling you along as though he were conducting a great orchestra, knowing every dialogue that will land, and every nerve that can be hit. It is masterful work.
Speaking of scores, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ overwhelmingly impeccable music to slice to your soul like the chaotic winds of the movie. Each note spiritually matches the tone of the film and the traumatic atmosphere of the weather, accentuating the lonely, savage world on screen.
There are a few moments where Sheridan’s work falters: Natalie’s voiceless mother is sadly misrepresented here in a “shock over substance” scene and there are many women around Olsen who have little to no lines. It sadly holds the film back from being perfection – a lacking of a complete selection of well-rounded women.
Ultimately, however, Wind River is a hard-hitting peace with a barbaric backdrop and intrinsic humanity that will leave you breathless.
Wind River is out September 8th