Writer Taylor Sheridan has slowly but surely ascended up the Hollywood ladder in the last few years after some wildly successful films that he has lent his penship too. An actor himself, it was his work on Sons of Anarchy that first earnt him huge acclaim as a writer, before two films catapulted him into the Hollywood A-list. Sicario, a sweaty, grim but throughout engrossing thriller directed by Denis Villeneuve was first before the scintillating Hell or High Water, under the watchful eye of David Mackenzie, earned his more wide spread acclaim.
His latest endeavour is Wind River, a huge hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and one that was much suited to the festival atmosphere given its similar wintery locations. This time swapping the baking heats for the coldest of colds, Sheridan steps behind the camera for the first time for this smart mystery thriller set in the Appalachian Mountains and a local Native American reservation.
The story surrounds the apparent murder of a young local woman who had been found nestled in the snow out in the vastness of the mountain sides by hunter Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) on one of his rounds. Immediately calling in the local sheriff and police, it’s deemed too big a case for them to handle alone so the FBI send one of their rookies to investigate in the form of Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) Slightly out of her depth, in both the investigation and her surroundings, Cory becomes her local guide through the town to try to find those involved. But in such a small town and quiet, disconnected corner of the world, anyone could be a suspect.
Right from the off, the film encapsulates you in its surroundings and story and doesn’t let up for the entire length of the film. This may be a debut feature for Sheridan but you’d hardly know it given just how wonderfully he handles proceedings and his adeptness at atmosphere and tension. Utilising lessons learned from Messers Villeneuve and Mackenzie, Sheridan’s lensing is impeccable throughout the film and with the sumptuous work from DoP Ben Richardson, you can almost feel yourself reaching for a hat and scarf given the crispness and bracing look of the film. In his written work, the characters are compelling and rich given much room to breathe and to blossom even amongst the short run time and the mystery will keep you guessing right up till it’s brutal conclusion.
Heading the pack, Renner is arguably on career best form here – released from the shackles of playing 10th fiddle (or however far down the Avengers line he finds himself), he has followed up his superb turn in Arrival last year with another superb turn full of pathos and tragedy but always brilliantly compelling. Olsen too delivers yet another knockout performance and while Jane is slightly underserved compared to Renner’s local, she still manages to bring all her talents to the fore with majestic ease. In addition, the ever excellent Grahame Green and Gil Billingham provide muscular supporting turns.
Fair warning, those expecting a typical “Sundance” affair will be best advised that this doesn’t have the comedy leanings or heartwarming echoes of a Little Miss Sunshine or The Big Sick. But those wanted to taut, magnificently crafted and exceptionally tense film experience, look no further than Sheridan’s latest construction. Just bring some gloves.