Taylor Sheridan is very quickly becoming one of my favourite creative forces working today, I must admit I was a little worried there for a second, I loved Sicario but when I found out his script had been revised in a few places by the director and the cast, I became rather afraid for Hell Or High Water. I thought to myself “what if Sicario was only great because of Villeneuve? What if Sheridan’s original untouched draft was actually terrible because we never really know how much of what gets changed in the world of Hollywood now do we?” Fortunately Hell Or High Water took those fears out the back and shot them execution style by being really sharp and funny and great, allowing me to get excited about the release of Wind River as opposed to fearful; excitement that paid off this time around because this movie rocks.
Wind River tells the tale of a tracker played by Jeremy Renner, a bereaved and broken individual making a living by shooting predators you might find feasting on your live stock. One day, while out in the freezing wilderness, he finds the body of a young woman, barefoot, miles from civilisation and frozen solid; the FBI send in Elizabeth Olsen as an agent, completely outside of her comfort zone and unfamiliar with such brutal weather, to solve the case. The two team up to find out who dunnit and now we have a movie, an extremely well done one too.
The plot sounds simple enough, person gets killed, circumstances are very weird, send in the polar opposites to solve it, we’ve all seen that kind of thing done before and it would come across as old and clichéd if not for Sheridan’s understanding of how to fill in the blanks, the man has admitted he likes writing relatively simple stories in order to give way to the characters and bloody hell; it works a treat. The narrative runs on character like a vehicle on fuel, this isn’t like an episode of some TV show, this is a harsh yet smooth, slow but tense, and meditative yet merciless look at a man making do with poetic redemption; who happens to be helping to solve a murder.
The acting is brilliant across the board, Jeremy Renner sells the broken man trying to look like he’s over the bad thing that happened to him once with gusto, Elizabeth Olsen is more than efficient in, not just her character’s self aware naiveté of her situation, but in the head spinning action scenes as well, I know, I know, any idiot can shoot a gun but selling fear and determination takes something, what’s it called? Ah yes – great acting! Gil Birmingham, who also had a role in Hell Or High Water, plays the father of the murdered girl and he manages the pain one would have after losing a child so well you start to wonder what the excuse is for everyone else on the Hallmark channel whom fails to cut it.
When it comes to the action scenes, I’m no stranger to seeing people get shot in films, I’ve seen them all and very rarely does a film still get me to jump out of my skin when a trigger is pulled and a loud bang comes out of the barrel; Wind River did it. When people die in this movie they really die, there’s nothing fake looking about it, people don’t dramatically wave their arms about the place, oh no, these shootouts are grizzly and painful, one thing I don’t think we’re used to quite just yet are dead bodies falling and landing in awkward positions, some people die before they hit the ground and there’s just something very disturbing out the way they look when it’s over. This is not an action film, it’s a drama, make no mistake, but it is so much a drama that when an automatic machine gun is whipped out and unloaded (something I’m no stranger to seeing in movies) it terrifies me; not many movies can still do that nowadays.
The harshness of the white snow, combined with mostly hand held camera work, creates the impression that the cold is the real villain here, a product of the bleak area our characters are forced to exist in, either for just a short time or for their entire lives. Wind River itself is dangerous to the souls of the heroes, a dead end frozen hell that is bringing out the worst, but hardly most surprising, side of humanity. This movie is not without humour, but for the most part things are pretty dark, just like Sheridan’s other works there is no light at the end of this tunnel, and what light there is more likely to give you snow blindness rather than show you the way to freedom.
I was really excited to see this movie and I couldn’t have been happier, I love the cinematography, the characters, the dialogue, Sheridan’s talent, not just on the page, but translating it to the screen, the darkness of it, the brutal personality, the aesthetic, everything. It’s a great film and easily earns a spot on the best list at the end of the year with no hesitation; I can’t wait for Soldado and I look forward to seeing what Sheridan does next. It’s sort of strange seeing as his only other directorial effort before this was a little forgotten horror flick called Vile that came and went with such little attention given, some have even mistakenly referred to Wind River as his directing debut, it doesn’t look particularly good, its internet ratings aren’t all that promising so what happened? Did he take notes from all the directors who adapted his scripts to become good at this sort of thing or is Vile some kind of secret brilliance, I’m curious to find out.