**** (out of five)
Taylor Sheridan is a damn good screenwriter. He wrote Sicario, Hell or High Water, and now Wind River, which he also directs. He wraps rich character studies in genre. All three feature guns, but they also feature human beings.
Here, a policeman in Wyoming who specialises in shooting wild animals to protect the herds on a Native American reservation teams up with a pretty young FBI case-worker to solve the mysterious, cold and lonely death of a young Native woman. Much of their work takes place on the reservation, in the snow (and often in a snow-storm).
What a milieu! We get snowmobiles as primary transport, the harsh weather as perhaps the most striking antagonist, a look inside life on a reservation, and, as a terrific by-product, a suite of some of the best Native American actors in the business, including Gil Birmingham (who was also in Hell or High Water, as Jeff Bridges’ partner), Apesanahkwat, Tantoo Cadinal and, of course, the great Graham Greene (who is up to 146 credits on IMDB with five films in post-production). It’s an embarrassment of casting riches.
As the leads, both Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner are very good – Olsen, perhaps great. Renner gets the harsh backstory but Olsen, as the FBI agent – a pretty young woman in a very, very male domain – gets the moments. Her scene at the first location of interest to the pair – you’ll know it when you see it – is Jodie-Foster-in-Silence of the Lambs-good.
As with Sicario and Hell or High Water, Sheridan gives us the action set-pieces the genre demands – a couple of very, very good ones indeed – but his character work here feels just a touch more strained. Gil Birmingham’s character is superb and fully realised, but Renner is burdened with backstory that’s just a little too rich, convenient or both. Also – almost certainly due in no small part to the harsh conditions of the locations – the dialogue can often be extremely hard to decipher. This was the wrong movie, shot in the wrong conditions, to let your actors mumble, and Sheridan lets Renner mumble a lot. It’s a shame; these elements hold Wind River back from being right up there with the very best films of 2017.