Meandering “Wind River” Lacks Focus
There’s an “almost, not quite” quality to Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River, a thriller with great potential that gets lost thanks to its oblique narrative. It surely isn’t a lack of talent on the screen that’s to blame as the cast assembled is first rate. The script by Sheridan, who penned last year’s Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water, is built around a run-of-the-mill murder mystery, a rather simplistic story he pads with clumsy characterization and obvious social commentary. There’s more fat than meat here and cutting to the heart of the matter proves a frustrating viewing experience.
Jeremy Renner is Cory Lambert, a Wyoming Fish and Wildlife officer who gets sucked into a murder investigation on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Out hunting wolves one day, he stumbles upon the body of a young woman named Natalie (Kelsey Asbille). This hits close to home for Lambert as his daughter, who was best friends with the murdered girl, died under mysterious circumstances as well. The FBI sends Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olson) to investigate. Though well meaning, this rookie alienates the Native American community, yet Lambert reluctantly comes to her aid, knowing that getting to the bottom of this murder is of prime importance.
Sheridan’s dialogue remains well written but the narrative devices he employs are dog-eared and tired. The old pro showing the new kid on the block the ropes, the continued abuse of the Native American culture by the US government and industry, and the red herring murder suspect are all clichéd plot lines that Sheridan simply can’t breath new life into. Compounding things is the slow pace, as the story is told in a very deliberate manner, while needless diversions are hammered into place that prevent the film from building up a good head of steam. While reflective moments amongst characters have their place, scenes in which people ponder their fate or rue their past are too plentiful here and, as a consequence, take the viewer out of the story far too often.
Stepping behind the camera for only the second time, Sheridan proves adept at filming and staging believable action sequences while his camera placement and staging of simple dialogue driven scenes is engaging as well. The cast does a fine job and proves watchable even when the story starts to meander. Renner’s convincing at the haunted Lambert, while Olson’s earnest approach towards Banner holds her in good stead. Dances with Wolves alums Graham Greene and Tantoo Cardinal, as well as Gil Brimingham of the Twilight films are on hand to provide solid support.
There’s nothing wrong with Wind River that another rewrite or two couldn’t have fixed. Greater depth to the main characters, a questionable coincidence thrown out here and there as well as clearer lines in explaining connections between the characters would have helped bring more clarity to the whole. As it is, Wind River is a film that takes far too long getting to its predictable outcome.