With three efforts in a small amount of time ("Sicario", "Hell or High Water" and now "Wind River"), writer-director Taylor Sheridan is slowly bringing intelligence back to the action thriller. While stepping behind the camera for his sophomore film in "Wind River" and lending only his writing abilities to the other two, a clear pattern of sublime understanding for complex characters in a deadly, shifting and unrelenting environment. It's also becoming clear he loves to shade half of his films from a somewhat feminist point of view. In "Sicario", Emily Blunt was the audience's naive entrance into a world of conspiratorial government machismo and nocturnal desert drug deals. In "Wind River", part of the perspective falls on the shoulders of Las Vegas FBI field agent Elizabeth Olsen.... so out of her element that she first arrives to the Indian reservation whose name the film derives its title from wearing only a windbreaker and high heels. But this spare choice of clothing certainly doesn't define her attitude, intelligence or will when it comes to solving the crime laid at her feet. Instead, she (like Emily Blunt) becomes the beating heart of an affair that will see her constantly checking her emotions, acting with confidence and smarts when the time is right, then lamenting the sadness of the whole thing once its over. She gives yet another tremendous performance in a film that's stunning, shocking, brutal and eventually wise about the patterns of violence that continually rear its ugly head in a winter wasteland where the margins of a culture have been confined for a century.
The other half of "Wind River's" grand perspective falls on the stoic but dented Corey (Jeremy Renner), a Fish and Wildlife tracker suffering from his own personal family trauma when he stumbles across the dead body of a family friend. It's this body that summons Olsen's FBI Agent Jane Banner to the blustery Indian reservation, immediately coming into conflict with both the customs and procedures of the territory. Teaming up with Renner, the two embark on a quest to find the killer or killers.
Part of the film's poetic success- besides its highly attuned care to make every bullet and punch resound with a thunderous thud- are the quiet moments interspersed throughout. The conversations had throughout "Wind River" are often just as incisive as the action. A quiet moment between Renner and Olsen when he explains why he's doing what he's doing for her is one of the seminal moments in film so far this year. Likewise, the way Olsen bottles and chortles up her emotions for a good majority of the film- finally allowing them overtake her in the penultimate scene- is so moving because its timed perfectly to allow the breathless, swooning violence of the previous few scenes gently settle over her. Like Emily Blunt shaking and washing the blood out of her hair in "Sicario", its okay for women to cry in Sheridan's universe.... just not when the shit hits the fan or when other people are around to judge your frazzled self.
If, ultimately, most of the wisdom is dispensed from Renner's Corey and he enjoys some of the more applauded moments of last-minute entrances, "Wind River" remains a companion piece about two people from vastly different worldviews learning that the world can be a literal and figurative cold place. It's also an extremely sad film about loss. During the opening of the film, a girl's voice recites a poem. Only later do we learn its probably not the voice of the girl violently running through the snow, but the disconnected voice of another lost person. It's said it doesn't matter who the poem is written to, only who its from. With "Wind River", Sheridan has crafted a masterpiece with the same prevailing wisdom.