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Taylor Sheridan is a writer/director who has been making a bit of noise in Hollywood over the past couple of years. With scripts like Sicario and Hell or High Water, the man is another talented individual that's brought the hard edge of film noir and the world-weary melancholy of the Western, and meshed them into darkly brilliant contemporary works. His latest film, Wind River, marks his first time directing one of his own scripts, and it's a film that certainly doesn't disappoint, as it tells a tale of vengeance and investigation that fits right at home with his previous works.
Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) and Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) are trying to solve a mystery on the Wind River Indian Reservation. After an abused young woman is found frozen to death in a clearing, the circumstances leading to her death are unknown. Their list of suspects is limited, but time is not on their side, as every step closer to the truth puts them further in harm's way.
Much like Taylor Sheridan's Hell or High Water, Wind River straddles the line between the more desperate parts of human nature, and the more nurturing aspects as well. It works just as well in this film as it did in the previous, as Sheridan's command of dialogue and characters draws the audience into the world of the Wind River reservation. You believe the world that's being presented on screen, and the people that inhabit it, which leads to the film's bleak atmosphere permeating every frame of the film.
Though Wind River does manage to wear its forlorn heart on its sleeve to maximum effect, the writer/director's trademark humor does find its way into the film's narrative, while not disrupting the more dramatic moments. It's because of this effective world building that both Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen's central performances are all the more effective, as both characters are living breathing people rather than caricatures. Renner's Cory is a frontiersman bad ass, but he's still got a sadness about him that drives him to solve this mystery, while Olsen's Jane is an investigator trying to figure out both the case. With both of these characters acting as serious anchors to the film's story, a character like Graham Greene's Ben is surely appreciated, as he helps lighten the mood when the moment calls for it.
While Wind River's story is as compelling as it is believable, the only weak link is the mystery central to the film's plot. It's adequate enough to push the film along, but it's a fairly simple case to crack after a certain point of the film's running time. However, the advantage to that aspect is how Taylor Sheridan's story is left to delve more into the human components of revenge, loss, and justice that drive our characters. So while this may not be as much of a procedural as audiences will be expecting, the film left turns into some heavier material that is normally absent from a film that would pay more attention to the former. This in turn amplifies the film's limited instances of violence when they do occur, as sudden and explosive bursts of action punctuate the methodical story being spun throughout.
It's early in the year to lock anything down, but Wind River could be Taylor Sheridan's next Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. That said, don't be surprised if he rides his dark horse into the awards fray again, this time with a Best Director nod in tow. Sheridan's command of not only his actors, but the words and images of his own story, exudes such confidence in his craft, to the point where it feels like he's a talent that's just getting warmed up. The western noir genre suits him well, and Wind River is a powerful examination of the human soul, while also containing scenes that'll take your breath away, as it shocks and awes the audience in waves.