Wind River is the first major directorial excursion by screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, a stark piece that follows the investigation of a murdered girl from the Wind River Native American Reservation in Colorado, US. Featuring Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, and Graham Greene, Wind River is fueled through performance and through truth – the story’s premise derives from true statistics of missing Native women.
From the very beginning of the feature, Wind River entrances you with mystery placed against the harsh environment of a snow storm – stirring on an unsettling sense of anxiety as you watch evidence get covered and forgotten. Sheridan maintains this sense of unease throughout the film, as you are presented with brutal images of animal-killing and a grieving mother self-harming.
The cinematography is stellar and the soundtrack haunting. Technically, Wind River is remarkable. And yet, by the end of the film, there’s a distinct feeling of “oh, is that really–is that it?”.
Despite Sheridan’s accomplishments as a screenwriter, what fails in Wind River is the writing. Throughout the first two acts of the film, the audience is sent on a steady investigation with the police department, a one man operation, who finds assistance in a fish-out-of-water FBI agent Jane Banner (Olsen) and moody-and-troubled cowboy Cory Lambert (Renner). It makes for easy and calm viewing – a long episode of a crime show if you will – but enjoyable.
However, what truly hinders Wind River is its third act. The conclusion is suddenly thrown at you, and audiences are shown, in far too much detail, the events that transpired to murder as quickly as Jane knocks on that door. And that’s all it takes for Wind River to spiral – a quick knock on the door by Elizabeth Olsen.
Ironically, therefore, it is Elizabeth Olsen who truly deserves credit for pulling this film through the snow; she straps the weak characterisation on her back and with an element of nuance makes Jane Banner not only watchable, but enjoyable. You root for this scared and naive FBI agent to just get through more than you feel inclined to care about the plot.
So Wind River itself is like snow. It’s cold and it’s harsh, and at a particular point you want it to go away because it gets really rather annoying.