The name Taylor Sheridan will have a familiar ring to fans of “Sons of Anarchy.” Sheridan played police officer David Hale on the FX series. There was a lot to the Hale character, an indication of Sheridan’s level as an actor and his keen ability as observer of the human genre. Sheridan, who directed “Wind River” which debuted at this year’s Cannes Festival, got his break as screenwriter when he was given writing duties for “Sicario,” directed by Denis Villeneuve (also a film that debuted at the Cannes Festival). “Sicario,” as it were, has one thing in common with “Wind River,” a strong woman police investigator character. In “Sicario” Emily Blunt played FBI agent Kate Macer and, in “Wind River,” which premiered last night (with major delays due to the earlier screening getting postponed because of a bomb scare) it’s Elizabeth Olsen who plays a character named Jane Banner, a FBI agent stationed in Las Vegas who is called to lead the inquiry in an Indian reserve in Wyoming after the bloodied-up body of a young woman is discovered there.
Cory Lambert (played by Jeremy Renner) is the local wildlife enforcer, a freelance marksman who gets hired to kill predatory animals threatening the various local herds. If you type “Wind River, WY” in Google maps you don’t get nothing, you get nothingness. There’s a river, and there’s land that dates to the Triassic Period, 185-225 million years ago, and it’s all covered with snow. Those parts aren’t friendly to humans and Macer is out of her depth in this Wyoming wilderness, a desolate landscape where men sometimes resort to savagery to survive, or just to spend the time. She came by herself, she tells the local police, as she was the federal agent who was the closest to the crime scene.
Lambert, better prepared, zips around the endless snow in a snowmobile with Banner hanging on to him from behind with all her might. They go to investigate the location of the murder, Banner first listening intently as Lambert tracks footprints and speculates as to the cause of death.
Macer eventually takes control of this testosterone-strong crew while still managing to remain a human being, at times a sensitive, frail one, even.
I thoroughly enjoyed this police procedural, for the unnerving beauty of the Wyoming plains, a serviceable performance by Jeremy Renner as the rugged lone ranger and an Elizabeth Olsen who has matured and really come unto her own after turns in “Old Boy” and “Avengers.” “Wind River” also boasts some of the most exciting music I have heard in cinema in recent time, all the credit going to Warren Ellis, a music director with a long resume and the distinction of having worked with Nick Cave several times before. I’ll confess, however, to having a bone to pick with Taylor Sheridan about how retribution is ultimately delivered in this here film. The cliffhanger of “Wind River” packs one of the most violent scenes I have seen in movies this year.