Sydney Film Festival Review: Wind River (USA, 2017) is a tight, often brutal thriller

Having proven his worth as a screenwriter with both Hell or High Water and Sicario, Wind River serves as scribe Taylor Sheridan’s directorial debut.  Arguably arriving with high expectations, Sheridan’s tight, often brutal thriller proves his workings with such professionals as David Mackenzie and Denis Villeneuve has paid off, showcasing an ease behind the lens as he injects the appropriate amount of grit to his dark story.

In a similar fashion to how drug wars and financial crises were the underlying subjects of (respectively) Sicario and Hell or High Water, Wind River tackles the controversial subject of the modern plight of Native Americans living on reservations.  A strong sense of family and community is quickly established when the film presents the murder case of an 18 year-old girl, one a U.S. Wildlife agent (Jeremy Renner) takes to heart; his character, Cory Lambert, has maintained close ties to the community following his separation from his Native American wife.  The film hints at Lambert’s own tragic history, and it’s through this latest crime that he opts to avenge this young girl’s death.

Similar to how Ben Foster and, perhaps more specifically, Chris Pine were able to showcase their strengths as performers in Hell or High Water, Sheridan gives Renner the opportunity to truly shine here with the actor delivering his most dynamic performance to date.  Though his character’s race keeps him at something of a distance for some of the folk on the reservation it’s evident at how much he identifies with the natives, and the film successfully presents this without Renner becoming overly preachy.

Perhaps handed a tougher role in terms of demeanour, Elizabeth Olsen is equally as impressive as a relatively inexperienced FBI agent whose involvement in the case stems merely from the fact that she was the closest female officer in proximity to the reservation; injury details pertaining to the murder victim being female is also mentioned as a necessity for Olsen’s involvement.  Though she initially enters the film frustrated at her lack of resources and adopts a certain leap-before-looking temperament, over the course of the running time she gradually comes into her own, and her relationship with Renner adds to that; in a glossier film the two would’ve either bickered or graduated to a romance, both points that Sheridan wisely avoids.

Maintaining the slow-burn mentality that laced his other works, whilst evoking a sense of dread throughout with a series of spirited set pieces that keep the film excitingly tense (the action-heavy climactic moments are some of the film’s best), Wind River only solidifies Taylor Sheridan as one of the more exciting players in the industry.  Whether it’s situational or character-based, his ability to make unlikeable subjects wholly intriguing is a credit to his skills as a writer, and now a filmmaker.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Wind River is screening as part of Sydney Film Festival, with its final screening today. Head HERE for more details.