Writer: Taylor Sheridan

Somewhat experienced with the pen, Taylor Sheridan takes a step up to direct this film in his trilogy of the American frontier. This however is vastly different from Sicario and Hell or High Water – admittedly two very different films themselves. But both dealt with political issues revolving around the southern border of the United States.

Sheridan decided to direct this as he wanted to respect the Native Americans that he had spent time with, subsequently penning this screenplay.

As defined by Hine and Faragher, “frontier history tells the story of the creation and defence of communities, the use of the land, the development of markets, and the formation of states.” They explain, “It is a tale of conquest, but also one of survival, persistence, and the merging of peoples and cultures that gave birth and continuing life to America.”

Thanks Wikipedia, and given this definition, this film certainly sits will in the trilogy, especially given the fact that the Wind River Indian Reservation is a real place in Wyoming, not to mention the circumstances that we learn of regarding those who live there, both native and not. The borders of this reservation are no less restrictive that those depicted in Taylor’s last two films, if not more so.

Unfortunately, relatively speaking, Wind River is not as riveting as the action packed Sicario, or as funny and character filled as Hell of High Water. But this is comparing two fantastic films, both written by Sheridan, to his directorial debut. And for a directorial debut, Wind River delivers on multiple counts, both in the assured direction and the writing.

Immediately noticeable is Jeremy Renner’s focus and determination; this may be the best role he has ever played. The dialogue he is given, for the most part, is superb and thought provoking, with only a few predictable lines. The action is limited and is mostly focused on the narrative, but when it does hit, it is as unpredictable as a sucker punch. It isn’t extremely prevalent, but it is certainly memorable.

Also very noticeable is the strength of both the acting and the writing of Elizabeth Olsen’s FBI agent. At first she seems green and incredibly new to the job, but she slowly proves her worth. She may not be as amazing as Emily Blunt in Sicario, but she certainly comes close, with some scenes landing extremely powerfully.

The film though is primarily focused on the treatment of and the lives lived by Native Americans on this reservation, which has very little in the way of law enforcement.

Opening the film we see what could lead into a simple whodunit, as we watch a Native American girl running away from something obviously horrible, as she is barefoot and not clothed for the extreme snowy conditions. Cory’s (Renner) tracking/hunting skills come into play to solve this riddle we are presented with. How did this girl run so far in the snow, barefoot?

This is explored via both the Native Americans and non-Natives who live on the reservation. They feel trapped. Nothing but “silence and snow”. Apt, considering the opening scene and the mystery of a native woman trying to escape the reservation. How this mystery unfolds though is far from predicable and carries some heavy, thought provoking themes.

Enlisting Nick Cave and Warren Ellis to handle the soundtrack, as was the case in Hell or High Water, is also never a bad idea, as their work lends a minimal but haunting, atmospheric tone at precisely the right moments. We hear Cave’s soft voice quietly two or three times, and it sounds like there could be no other way this could be scored.

The ending at first seems abrupt, but the titles that are shown over the final shot are unnerving and really nail home the main themes of the film. There are some minor flaws – other than Olsen and Renner, all other characters are quite thin and rather forgettable. The meaningful dialogue also seems mostly reserved for these two, though there are some lines from other characters that carry some heft. Otherwise this is a hard film to fault. The cinematography looks incredible and makes the most of the snowy landscape, while a few scenes mislead the viewer, adding more weight to a narrative that is more complex that it seems.

A fine addition to Sheridan’s trilogy; we will be seeing more of him in the near future.

Five beers out of a sixer.