Wind River (3 stars)

Wind River

Jeremy Renner heads up a thriller that's by turns refreshing and conformist, from Taylor Sheridan

Noble of intention but succumbing to a surprising amount of clichés, this is the first major feature from director Taylor Sheridan, following micro-budget horror Vile. Sheridan is better known as the esteemed scribe behind Sicario, who was Oscar-nominated for his gloriously salty screenplay for Hell or High Water. Adopting a solemn rather than sensational approach to its murder mystery and inspired by actual events, Wind River delves into the disappearance and brutalisation of young Native American women.

The snowy Wyoming landscapes couldn't be further from the hot dust of Sheridan's previous pictures. Jeremy Renner plays Cory Lambert, a wildlife officer used to pursuing predators. Whilst hunting wild cats in the Wind River Indian Reservation he comes across the body of Natalie (Kelsey Asbille), the best friend of his deceased daughter. Elizabeth Olsen is rookie FBI agent Jane Banner, called in to establish whether what transpired was a homicide, who puts her trust in Cory as a tracker.

The emphasis on Natalie's almost superhuman strength in the face of her emotionally harrowing, physically gruelling ordeal is welcome. There are other positives: the focus on Native American families, the way those investigating Natalie's death are visibly affected by it, the disinterest in dwelling on grisly details, and the awful credibility of the crime itself. But for every sense in which Wind River stands apart from generic crime thrillers there is a jarring misstep – whether it's the sometimes hokey dialogue ('I know you're looking for clues but you're missing all the signs'), or the fact that Jane is portrayed as needy and hopelessly out of her depth, and the crass hints that she might be interested in Cory romantically.

Most problematically, that a maverick man is the film's most valued person undermines its determination to humanise the female victim; that he's a white man feels uncomfortable too. And it sidelines the grieving mothers to focus on the pain of Cory, and that of Natalie's father (Gil Birmingham). Wind River is a film that intermittently impresses, even if it keeps getting blown off course.

General release from Fri 8 Sep.

Wind River

  • 3 stars
  • 2017
  • US
  • 1h 47min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Taylor Sheridan
  • Cast: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Kelsey Asbille
  • UK release: 8 September 2017

Cory Lambert (Renner) is a wildlife officer used to tracking predators, who teams up with rookie FBI agent Jane Banner (Olsen) to solve a murder in Wind River Indian Reservation. For all the sensitive handling of Native American issues, the dialogue is hokey, the Olsen character is underwritten and there’s too much focus…

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