Movie Review: ‘WIND RIVER’ is bitter perfection

James Cole Clay // Film Critic

WIND RIVER 
Rated R, 107 minutes.
Director: Taylor Sheridan
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Gil Birmingham and Jon Bernthal

Screenwriter-actor Taylor Sheridan’s (SICARIO, HELL OR HIGH WATER) work has been absolutely stellar thus far, telling dark stories about humanity that are grizzly and  shine the light on the hard truths of life.

His first directorial effort, WIND RIVER, proves now he is one of the great contemporary American storytellers. The film tells the tale of a murder on a desolate Native American reservation, which puts an unlikely FBI Agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) with a stoic, local game tracker named Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner). But Sheridan isn’t interested in the typical mismatched cop dynamics; his films are for the people. There’s no glamorizing the icy terrain, or the horrifying murder of a young woman.

Even in the dead of summer, WIND RIVER is the cool methodical film we needed. Its carefully calculated story is like an old diesel engine that takes a while to get moving, but once the gears are in place its easily one of the best films of the year.

Jeremy Renner (left) and Gil Birmingham (right) in a pivotal scene from ‘WIND RIVER.’ (Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Company)

Renner and Olsen have a palpable chemistry that subverts typical (and quite lame romantic expectations). These are two people living in the middle of nowhere with very little to live for, especially Cory Lambert who is doing his best to move on in the wake of tragedy. Jane Banner, however, is teased and underestimated for her beauty and gender in a place where toxic masculinity is a virus fueled by free-time and alcohol.

Also, props to Sheridan for giving the Native Americans a cogent point-of-view that never panders, only empathizes. We see this best in Gil Birmingham’s (HELL OR HIGH WATER) who has lost a family member and can’t quite seem to cope with the constant change his people have faced.

Buy and large, WIND RIVER showcases story telling that rarely ever exists on the big screen these days. Mainly these deep stories find their way onto cable, but Sheridan continues to impress yet again with a film that needs dollars and cents to continue the push for awards season. This is a film best served cold.

Grade: A

WIND RIVER is now playing in limited release.

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