Elizabeth Olsen in Wind River (2017)

‘Wind River’ opens with a young woman running barefoot through the snow, scared for her life, as she recites a poem about a peaceful meadow that only exists in her dreams.

That juxtaposition of struggle in a bleak landscape with the dream of a better life is at the core of this stark but deeply-engaging, slow-burn police procedural from writer/director Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water).

Set in and around Wyoming’s Wind River Indian Reservation, the focus here is on borders and barriers, misread signs and misunderstandings. A hunter for the Fish and Wildlife Service, Cory, played by Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, Arrival), is the perfect foil for Jane, a Florida-based FBI agent thrust into unfamiliar deadly terrain by circumstances beyond her control.

The seasoned tracker teaches the inexperienced federal agent to read the signs rather than just look for clues – to go where the wolves have already been, not where they might be now.

Jeremy Renner in Wind River (2017)

Renner offers a near-perfect balance of inner conflict and anger. And Sheridan’s script gives him credible stakes. Cory lost his daughter in much the same way that the victim in this case died.

But, rather than strap on the revenge armor, and a “unique set of skills”, they use his past to open up other characters. In a touching (and mostly silent) scene, Sheridan and Renner use Cory’s pain to establish a genuine connection between the “hunter” and the victim’s father.

Elizabeth Olsen (Avengers: Age of Ultron) plays Jane as “in over her head”, but still able to put her snowshoes on without help. She takes her cues both from Cory, and from Ben, the overburdened tribal sheriff, portrayed with seasoned affability by Graham Greene (Dances With Wolves).

Olsen delivers a just enough mix of innocence, reflexes, and training that makes her believable. And, mercifully, we never have to endure an awkward, fear-induced romantic moment between co-stars.

Jeremy Renner in Wind River (2017)

While it sidesteps most of the Hollywood tropes, given the snow, the isolation, the guns, the mystery, the dead bodies, and, did I mention the snowy isolation, I did get a whiff of Scandi-noir off of ‘Wind River’.

The pace is leisurely, and the story fairly convoluted, with a few flashbacks and many things unspoken. But, all that said, it never feels derivative, and is easy to follow, with characters that are credible, and stakes that are clear.

But, through all the harsh environment metaphors and looming storms, ‘Wind River’ is not all bleak “interior” landscapes. Cinematographer Ben Richardson (Beasts of the Southern Wild), captures the beauty of the mountains, and the wildlife (two-legged and four-legged) that live there.

And director Sheridan binds Richardson’s cool, crisp color palette with the messy inner lives of his characters by employing a haunting, half-tribal, half-New Age soundtrack from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. The mix of harmonics and atmosphere is both musical and ethereal. Again, the things that are merely suggested are as poignant as the themes that are clearly stated.

Inspired by true events, ‘Wind River’, offers a well-tempered mix of credible characters, and a compelling personal and cinematic drama which should satisfy both those looking for an engaging story, and those who like a good “cowboys and Indians” shoot-em-up.

‘Wind River’ opens in Irish cinemas on September 8th.

Review by Glenn Kaufmann, a Dublin-based freelance writer, and one of the founders of ‘No-Budget’, a show for independent filmmakers. Click on the link to discover more:
http://bit.ly/2ibf1Bq

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