Screenwriting is an often unacknowledged—or at least unmarketable—aspect to filmmaking. More often than not, the director’s name is the one that you see in trailers, seldom “from the writer of…” So it’s always exciting when someone like Taylor Sheridan comes along and brings more attention to the under-appreciated—and highly important—screenwriters of Hollywood.
You see, Taylor Sheridan was actually the mind behind last summer’s sleeper hit Hell or High Water in which he breathed new life into the Western genre with timely, down-to-earth storytelling. Before that, Sheridan delivered Sicario with director Denis Villenueve. Needless to say, if you haven’t already been following his trajectory, Sheridan is doing some great things. And now we can add directing with his latest: Wind River.
Very much in the same vein of his last works (in what is sort of an unofficial “New Frontiers” trilogy), Wind River is a neo-Western set in the cold, snow-swept hills of Wyoming as we follow a game tracker (Jeremy Renner) and an FBI Agent (Elizabeth Olsen) in their attempts to hunt down the murderer of a young indigenous girl found raped and abandoned miles from civilization in the middle of a blizzard. It’s a story of modern-day “Cowboys and Indians;” racism is still as present as ever, even if it feels just on the point of boiling over. There’s still bitterness and anger—but also culture and remembrance. It’s a fresh atmosphere to explore, and the cold helps remind us of how things are kept alive even in the harshest of conditions—even hate and intolerance.
Sheridan, who takes over behind the camera for the second (and hopefully not last) time, proves to be a skilled director. His script has the tendency to introduce characters only to never see them again, but he crafts a tense, authentic story about real-world issues nobody talks about—namely the abduction of indigenous women in which almost none of them are reported missing. It has the same down-to-earth feel as Hell or High Water with the suspense of Sicario, all wrapped up in a frigid package that’ll make you shiver more than you normally would in a theater.
Renner and Olsen, who both star in the Marvel movies together, make for an interesting duo. Olsen is rather out of her element—stationed in Las Vegas, raised in Ft. Lauderdale, the cold is as vicious of an enemy as the most ruthless serial killer. She just wants to solve the murder and be done with it, but as it unravels she thirsts for the answer. Renner, on the other hand, has some higher stakes at play. Without spoiling much, the crime in question bears some resemblance to one he faced all too recently. He’s been through hell and is just making his way out when the devil resurfaces to pull him under. It’s a brilliant performance by Renner who reminds us of his worth outside of action movies.
Wind River, if its the end of this neo-Western period for Sheridan, is fitting conclusion. He has focused on some really tough elements of this new Frontier life in America—the whole border scenario, economic hardships, and deep-seeded racism and violence. Wind River feels like a culmination of these, though it isn’t necessarily the best out of all of them. Nevertheless, Sheridan proves to be one of the best writers of our times in crafting gritty, authentic stories that get to the heart of issues we seldom hear or talk about, all while showcasing just how beautiful this country of ours is, even if it can be filled with a lot of darkness.