This review was written by Anthony J Digioia. Follow him and his website here for more awesome reviews: SilverScreen Analysis
“WIND RIVER” follows a veteran for the US Fish and Wildlife Service played by Jeremy Renner, who discovers the body of a girl in the rugged forest inside the Wind River Indian Reservation. He reluctantly teams with a young FBI agent played by Elizabeth Olsen and together they search for answers that are not so easy to acquire with the harsh winter elements, and history of the region.
It’s a simple premise for a cold mystery and it does provide just that. But there was so much more this film skillfully written and directed by Taylor Sheridan. I didn’t know much about this one other than the headlining cast, and that Sheridan was the creative force behind it. For those of you who may not know Sheridan also wrote “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water” which were two films I loved. So naturally with him getting to direct his own story, I was intrigued.
“Wind River” is methodical. It’s foreboding, and it creates such an engaging atmosphere that I was completely pulled into the story not long after it started. The direction from Sheridan was precise and he captures the region and locations with a great eye behind the camera. The weather conditions are beautifully shot. They capture the difficulties of the region as the result of the harsh seasonal climate. However through the narrative, this film also conveys the struggles of the people inside the reservation from the aspect of cultural history.
The land is extremely remote, rugged to the point of inhospitable in areas. The land is said to cover the equivalent of Rhode Island yet is only policed by a handful of officers. Meaning it is virtually lawless. With no real threat to someone wanting to commit a crime, if the circumstances were aligned. Added with no registered list for missing persons in the region, and it’s the recipe for something bad to happen. These were all aspects of the story that Sheridan delivers in a very subtle way as information slips into place very timely as the plot develops.
Without all the exposition-filled dialogue to neatly explain everything to the audience you feel as if everything you see onscreen is purposeful. Sheridan treats his audience like they are intelligent and the effort the film shows going other directions to express itself was captivating to watch. Throughout the film Sheridan captures these elements by using the tightly-edited dialogue, through the progression of a particular scene. Where a scene may would come into frame, as well as incorporating a seamless blend of beautiful silent imagery, that evoked much thought as to how you would feel if you lived in the region. Something that was extremely effective in being able to immerse me into the story-line.
The story was well structured and despite a slow pace, it does feel like it is continuously developing. The tension slowly builds and when the third-act kicks in, the suspense mounts almost instantly. The result was gripping, emotionally touching, and all you could ask for from the closing of a slow-burning murder mystery. Some may prefer a film with a faster pace and a higher tension level for the bulk of the run-time. This film spends a good amount of time developing the foundations to the plot, the situation it focused on, and the people directly involved. This substance created early on is what makes the impact of the closing act so strong and worth the time sitting through the more monotonous, and at times foreboding, story leading up to it
The performances were excellent in a very understated way. Both Renner and Olsen come in and create some engaging characters that the audience can connect with. Their chemistry together was natural, and well-captured without forcing their connection on the viewer. Their interpretation of the roles and knowing what there reason for being in the story was, resulted in them conveying the grounded dynamics between their characters with realism. They never felt like characters. They felt like people, and while the story was very well-written, it was their performances that were what pulled it off.
Overall the film was beautifully shot. There were many stunning backdrops to the various scenes that were framed up with an appealing result. It wove in a simple but imposing musical score that did sound familiar but still worked for bolstering the tone of this story. It was packed with solid writing that never tries too hard and it was complemented with some excellent performances.
I thought this was a fantastic film, and one of my favorites from the summer. But it was not a perfect film. The two lead characters were (I guess you could say) enough for what was needed. But they were a overly simplistic with a lack of development to their personas. Their tropes were ones we have seen before, with little changes. I know the setting and the situation the plot revolved around were the focus of this film, but their characters left me wanting a little more to help build a stronger connection with them.
The progression of the story-line was intentionally methodical and it does work for the intention of the overall plot. But there were some times during this film that it could have been tightened up to add a little more depth to the history of the region. There were certainly instances where it was developed. But for the run-time, I felt there could have been some added dialogue in places that would have built more substance to the plot. Without sacrificing the overall artistic appeal. But it doesn’t hinder the impact this film will leave on you and I definitely recommend checking it out if you can find it in a theater near you.