Wind River Review

Murder most foul on the Native American reservation, there is a lingering doubt shared between the leading characters, one that twangs the chord of distrust. Any good murder mystery has a meaning or message at the core of it, and while Wind River has that, it is not, necessarily, its main focus. Taylor Sheridan’s sophomore effort balances this mindset and the effective pangs of a neo-western with controlled meditations on local law enforcement and the growing issue of murder, targeted at the Native American community. There is comfort in the considerate lead characters, they make for a great leading duo that make the tough times tense and the revelations of this murder mystery exciting and tantalising. A tough blend to perfect, Wind River comes close to the heights of the genre.  

Jeremy Renner plays his part well as Cory Lambert, a man who, in his opening scenes, teaches his son to respect horses by standing his ground against them. Baffling it may be, that love of horses is inherent and necessary to any form of western feature, and the wistful watch Sheridan brings to the face of Lambert as he watches his son gain the trust of this equestrian beast feels right at home in the modernised western setting. The big-city police work of Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) inevitably clashes with the small-scale rural living, whose sporadic interactions with the community has not prepared them for a crime this brutal. That is the happenstance problem of knowing everyone within a closely-knit community. It too is the beauty of Wind River, which feeds off of those tensions.  

With an eye for the landscape, Sheridan’s impressive understanding of shot stylings and what they imply makes Wind River not just a beautiful slideshow of luscious scenery, but a heavy-hitting drama with heart and soul backing its performances. Landscapes like this often provide the backdrop to horrors at the heart of winter-clad towns. It worked solidly for Insomnia, and even better throughout Sheridan’s detective piece. Olsen captures the anger founded by someone trying to do the right thing away from the books, and the frustrations that mount when she can’t push through are believable and well-performed. Her scenes hunting down criminals and firing rounds at felons bring about strong action. She and Renner have some intoxicatingly good chemistry, but, crucially, manage to survive in scenes on their own. It brings an effective power to the time they share on-screen.  

Stunning brutality is present within Wind River, and while its mystery is steeped in deceit and dark tones of murder; it is truly surprising to see just how intoxicating this piece can be. “I know you’re looking for clues, but you’re missing all the signs,” is the advice Lambert offers to Banner early on. That much is true, and it is the detail that Wind River skimps its audience out on that makes it never quite perfect, but damn near close. Its pacing is surprisingly strong, moving with grace and style, while unfurling its mysteries to audience and actor with an understanding and respect for the conventions of old-school westerns, dragging those tropes and stylings to the fresh air and blinding light of the new wave of murder mysteries. We can only hope Wind River sparks the next wave of cold, harsh characters in the icy tundra of Wyoming.   

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