Hell or High Water was one of the best new films to come out last year. I didn’t care for Sicario as much, but it was very well received by a lot of people. Both were written by Taylor Sheridan, who also wrote Wind River. And this time he directed it as well.
The film features Jeremy Renner as fish and wildlife agent Cory Lambert. He’s an expert hunter and animal tracker, and he’s often called to go after wild animals who are bothering people or livestock in the frigid, snowy Wyoming mountains near the Wind River Native American reservation. On one such excursion, he comes across the body of a dead girl who looks like she had been running for her life after being raped. It’s his daughter’s best friend, and she died in a manner that wasn’t all that different from the way that Cory’s daughter died.
Because it happened on the reservation, the FBI was called in to investigate. And in this case, the FBI is agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen). While she’s clearly passionate about the case, she’s also clearly out of her league, not to mention unequipped for the brutal weather conditions. The tribal police, led by chief Ben (Graham Greene), is a tiny force with a lot of ground to cover, so Banner enlists Lambert’s help to try to figure out what went wrong.
Wind River is a very good film, even if it falls a little short of the standard set by Hell or High Water. There are clear similarities between the two crime thrillers, particularly in their rugged settings and deliberate pacing. Renner plays his character very well, but it does seem like Lambert comes off a little too infallibly superheroic in every way except dealing with his feelings about his dead daughter, and he even handles that pretty well. That’s in stark contrast to Olsen’s character, who isn’t quite bumbling, but still finds herself in constant need of bailing out. I would have liked to see more depth and more development for both characters.
The film’s cinematography is also worth mentioning. It makes heavy use of handheld camera but surprisingly doesn’t suffer from the shakycam syndrome that seems to plague many other films with big action sequences. On the other hand, there is a lot more camera movement in the slower sequences, always staying close to cover almost like the camera is some kind of predator that is stalking Lambert. Although I generally like the effect, it does seem a little misleading at times because it almost feels like someone’s about to jump out and attack.
Ultimately, while the movie has problems, it’s just so engaging that its shortcomings are easy to forgive. Renner and Olsen work very well together, and its 107-minute runtime feels just right to ensure that it keeps moving along even while many of its scenes play out very slowly. I’m sure that it’s one that I’ll see again, and I’m interested to see whether it fares as well as Hell or High Water on a repeat viewing.