Head over to your favorite theater because moviegoers have been given the perfect film to transition into the next phase of the year. “While missing person statistics are compiled for every other demographic, none exist for Native American women.” Those are the words that fill the screen in the final moments of Taylor Sheridan’s directorial debut of Wind River. The film follows the murder case of a young Native American woman on one of the largest — and certainly one of the most desolate — reservations in the country. Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen present brilliant, career-defining performances, making it easy to forget that they both played Avengers together less than a year ago.
Sheridan, screenwriter of Oscar-nominated films Sicario and Hell or High Water, is the real star of the film. His ability to take a highly sensitive issue and adapt it into an emotional journey about recovering from loss while also putting audiences on a thrill ride that keeps them on the edge of their seats, waiting for a bomb to drop at any moment, is worthy of praise. Already a budding master of building and releasing tension, Sheridan manipulates the audiences’ emotional responses in Wind River. Unlike many thrillers that keep the tension high for much of the film, there is enough time to relax between moments of anxiety to build the tension back up. Like a good roller coaster, this movie shows that the real fear comes while waiting, increasing as the drop gets closer.
The film might fall somewhat short on action but each sequence in Wind River is purposeful– not a moment is wasted– making it one of the best paced and well written movies in 2017. Renner (Lambert) and Gil Birmingham’s characters (Martin) share a very touching moment together after Martin learns of the death of his daughter. Since Martin only has a couple of scenes in the film, this could have easily been a throwaway scene. Instead, it is an extremely important scene in the movie that is used to show the strength of Lambert’s character as he uses his own loss to help Martin find solace. It highlights the wilderness theme; you either “survive or you surrender”.
Sheridan’s young résumé is already quite impressive now with three modern American-Western films under his belt. After a summer movie season full of high action, car cashes, explosions and The Emoji Movie, Wind River provides just the right amount of gripping catharsis filmgoers need to refresh and understand the strength that comes from dealing with loss. Plus, the awards season is just around the corner, so you might as well whet your palette with something fresh, thoughtful, Oscar-worthy and truly stimulating before nominations are handed out.