Wind River, Taylor Sheridan’s third filmed screenplay and second film as a director, seems to crystallize the notion that he’s a talented storyteller but not exactly a deep thinker. Not every story needs to be the product of deep thinking, of course, and in the past it’s even worked to Sheridan’s advantage, particularly in Hell Or High Water (directed by David MacKenzie), a straight-ahead bank robbing thriller that feels almost specifically designed to make you slap your knee and opine about why “No one else makes ’em like this anymore.”
Similarly, Sicario works as long as you don’t think about it too hard (probably because Denis Villenueve shoots action so well that not much else even matters). But in Wind River, Sheridan’s first film as both writer and director (he previously directed the 2011 horror film Vile), his meatheadedness becomes even more of a liability. It’s a movie I wholeheartedly enjoyed for about the first two thirds and then spent the last third wondering if the director should see a shrink.
Wind River is pretty fantastic when it’s a murder mystery and kind of gross when it’s a revenge movie. Like our collective fascination with the sociopath, the revenge movie is a genre that seems to betray more psychological ugliness the more times you see it, getting less and less enjoyable in the process. That’s especially true when a screenwriter seems to be dreaming up worse and worse things for a bad guy to do just so it will feel that much more cathartic when said bad guy gets murdered gruesomely himself. How many people does Ramsay Snow have to rape or castrate for us to enjoy him getting torn apart by wild dogs? And for some reason, revenge feels much grosser when it’s treated with grave seriousness, like in Prisoners, rather than openly played for genre thrills, like in John Wick or Kill Bill. Don’t frown at me while you’re getting your rocks off. You’re not fooling anyone.
In Wind River, Jeremy Renner plays Cory Lambert, a gruff but sage Wyoming man who kills animals for a living (in his capacity as a fish and wildlife officer tasked with tracking down rogue wolves and outlaw mountain lions). One blustery day he finds the body of a young girl out in the snow deep in the Wind River Indian reservation where she’s been raped and left for dead. The FBI then calls in dew-faced freshington Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), the closest available agent, who doesn’t even have a winter coat when she arrives from Las Vegas.