Sundance Review: Wind River – Hell Or High Mountains

Wind River definitely has a Hell or High Water vibe. It’s a bit more deliberately paced, since there’s no series of bank robberies to pepper the movie, but it’s a solid script and directorial debut for Taylor Sheridan.Wind River

Fish and Wildlife hunter Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) discovers the body of a barefoot woman frozen in the snow. When FBI agent Jane Bonner (Elizabeth Olsen) arrives to investigate, she asks for Lambert’s help navigating the wilderness of the cold Wind River region.

This is a single mystery that unfolds as Lambert and Bonner uncover the clues, but everything pays off. Bonner and Lambert try to figure out where the victim was running from and who raped her to make her flee barefoot in the snow.

Taking the time to set up all the elements makes the payoff more rewarding. The buildup to standoffs are tense. The point is not to set up action set pieces, but when suspects try to run, Lambert and Bonner have expedient ways to take them out, even when they’re briefly hobbled by mace, the equivalent of a sucker punch.

There are verbal confrontations between the heroes and villains that feel reminiscent of Jeff Bridges going to confront Chris Pine. Lambert is a similarly matter of fact and it’s similarly not his jurisdiction but he puts the criminal in his place. Lambert also talks to the victim’s parents about mourning. It’s an attention to the victim often skimmed over in mysteries.

The performances are great. Olsen conveys the no nonsense FBI who’s used to dealing with sexism and would rather just get on with the case, but knows this is part of the process especially in less modern areas. Sheridan gives Renner a big speech talking about his daughter. It’s a bit actory but Renner makes it feel natural.

The snowy hills of the American midwest photograph beautifully. City girl Bonner’s inexperience with the climate is also a minor part of the story. They don’t dwell on it too much. It’s a natural difference between people who live there and people who visit, and she’d rather just be given proper attire than hear the judgmental remarks about city folk.

Fans of Sheridan’s screenplays will want to see his latest. They’ll appreciate a similar exploration of a small corner of a more familiar genre. As a director, Sheridan presents his story as matter of factly as Denis Villeneuve and David Mackenzie did.

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