Taylor Sheridan follows up two stellar scripts (Sicario and Hell or High Water) with a double act as the writer-director of Wind River. Wind River lives in the space between Sheridan’s last two scripts. This outing unites an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) and a professional game tracker (Jeremy Renner) who find themselves out of their element and in over their heads (albeit in different ways) when they attempt to solve the murder of a young woman on a Native American reservation in Wyoming.
Cory Lambert (Renner) is no stranger to tragic, violent deaths, having lost his own teenage daughter under terrible circumstances. Renner’s performance walks the line between overwhelming grief and stoic determinedness. It’s powerfully quiet and sneakily impactful. Meanwhile, Olsen is wide-eyed and full of passion as Jane Banner, but all of her training and ideas about justice are nothing to the cold realities of the world in which she finds herself.
But, as strong as the leading performances are, Sheridan’s knack for unforgettable supporting acts remains his greatest strength as a storyteller. Graham Greene steals scenes right and left as the weary, but dedicated, head of the reservation’s police force. And Gil Birmingham goes feel-for-feel Renner, though he has far fewer scenes in which to make an impression. And then there’s a whole host of sinister characters who take mere moments to establish themselves as villains worthy of our every feeling of disdain.
It’s fortunate that Wind River is jam-packed with strong performances, as Sheridan occasionally lets the wide open spaces breathe for too long. It’s a haunting enough vision, but there are moments where the narrative feels more lost than contemplative. However, all such complaints are forgotten by the time the endgame swings into action. Both the adrenaline and the emotion soar in the third act, paying off everything that’s led us to that point.
Wind River is not a picture that feels like an August release. It’s deliberate and heady enough that it would have made more sense in a late fall slot, perhaps even with an awards push. Why we get to enjoy it in deep summer remains a mystery, but this moody thriller stands out among a crowded field of shiny studio tentpoles.