WIND RIVER

From the writer of Si­cario and Hell Or High Wa­ter, an Amer­i­cana-in­fused crime drama. Who’d have thought it?

Empire (UK) - - CONTENTS - An­drew Lowry

DI­REC­TOR Tay­lor Sheri­dan CAST El­iz­a­beth Olsen, Jeremy Ren­ner, Kelsey Chow, Jon Bern­thal PLOT

A game tracker (Ren­ner) dis­cov­ers a dead girl while hunt­ing. An FBI agent (Olsen) ar­rives at the Wind River Reser­va­tion and they join forces.

TAY­LOR SHERI­DAN WROTE

Si­cario and Hell Or High Wa­ter. With both well-re­ceived and his pro­file raised, he’s cashed in his chips to make this, his ‘proper’ de­but as di­rec­tor, sheep­ishly nudg­ing 2011 tor­ture porn

Vile off his CV. And while Wind River has all the grit and des­per­a­tion of the De­nis Vil­leneuve and David Macken­zie films, that pair are two of the great­est di­rec­tors of their gen­er­a­tion. Here, Sheri­dan’s short­com­ings are laid bru­tally bare.

The open­ing is strik­ing: Natalie Han­son (Chow), barely dressed, is run­ning bare­foot through a snowy wilder­ness as, in voiceover, she reads a heart­break­ing teenage love let­ter. It’s pretty clear she’s not long for this Earth, and soon US Fish And Wildlife Ser­vice agent Cory Lam­bert (Ren­ner) dis­cov­ers her body and an au­topsy de­ter­mines she was raped. The Feds send rookie agent Jane Ban­ner (Olsen) to the bleak Wy­oming In­dian reser­va­tion the girl was found on, and Lam­bert be­comes her guide as they inch to­wards find­ing Natalie’s killer.

Inching re­ally is the word. Wind River is sim­i­lar in tone to Si­cario and Hell Or High Wa­ter but Sheri­dan’s pres­ence be­hind the cam­era of­fers an el­e­gant demon­stra­tion of what a di­rec­tor ac­tu­ally does. “Pac­ing” can mean what­ever the per­son us­ing it wants it to, but it’s one of the key jobs of the di­rec­tor. It’s choos­ing how quickly in­for­ma­tion is doled out, what to un­der­line and what to elide.

Sheri­dan makes some odd de­ci­sions in this re­gard, and ends up step­ping on his own film. Given the hor­ren­dous na­ture of Natalie’s death — chok­ing to death on her own blood — there doesn’t seem to be any huge rush in find­ing her killer. The im­pact of her loss on her fam­ily is han­dled all too swiftly, with a brief glimpse of a self-harm­ing mother and a fa­ther ask­ing Ren­ner to make sure the mur­derer isn’t caught alive. The sus­pi­cion is a Macken­zie or Vil­leneuve would have found a way to make all this land, but to Sheri­dan it’s al­most an af­ter­thought, and comes af­ter we me­an­der for the best part of an

hour into his film. There are strik­ing land­scape shots (and some of the best ski­doo-rid­ing footage you’ll see), but this is a pres­tige-feel­ing project with­out a pres­tige look, out­side those lo­ca­tions. That said, Sheri­dan is still a su­perb writer.

Wind River vividly recre­ates the bleak, im­pov­er­ished feel of a real-life reser­va­tion where life is tough and the peo­ple that lit­tle bit tougher. It’s yet another script that feels as though it could be an adap­ta­tion of a Nick Cave song — and, aptly enough, Cave and War­ren El­lis have de­liv­ered another ex­cel­lent score here.

Ren­ner does fine work, too, to­tally con­vinc­ing as a grief-stricken out­doors­man, equally at home hoof­ing around in show shoes as de­liv­er­ing a strik­ing mono­logue that re­veals why he’s in­vested so much in this case. Olsen is less ef­fec­tive, but has less to work with. By the end, she’s lit­tle more than a by­stander as Lam­bert em­barks on his quest for vi­car­i­ous re­venge.

In the fi­nal move­ment, things reach a grand moral in­ten­sity far from the slice-of-life open­ing. We’ve moved from a docu-drama-style look at how grim life can be for peo­ple on the fringes of so­ci­ety to a kind of Cor­mac Mccarthy tale in ther­mals. Shorn of the wob­bly in­de­ci­sive­ness of ear­lier, the el­e­men­tal im­pulses in the nar­ra­tive are laid bare. Sheri­dan writes about the dan­ger­ous lim­i­nal zones of con­tem­po­rary Amer­ica, where ev­ery­body has a gun and a se­cret. It’s an Amer­ica pre­vi­ously in­hab­ited by the likes of Brolin, Bridges and Del Toro, and Ren­ner is their equal. It’s just a shame the se­cond pair of ex­pert eyes weren’t on hand to give him a bet­ter en­trance.

VERDICT tay­lor sheri­dan’s flair for cre­at­ing heart­land epics is undimmed, but it’s hard not to won­der what some­one with more di­rect­ing chops, and the will to hit the ac­cel­er­a­tor, would have done with it.

FBI Agent Jane Ban­ner (El­iz­a­beth Olsen) with game tracker Cory Lam­bert (Jeremy Ren­ner); The man­hunt pro­gresses in the Wy­oming wilder­ness; Cabin fever for Ban­ner and Lam­bert; Lam­bert pow-wows with Wind River Reser­va­tion res­i­dent Martin (Gil Birm­ing­ham). Clock­wise from left:

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