Hot Take: The best movie of 2017 so far! For the second straight year, writer/director Taylor Sheridan has delivered a hidden gem.
As we head into Labor Day weekend, all reports are expecting this weekend’s box office to be the slowest in over 2 decades. It’s easy to figure out why since the two new wide releases are the 40th anniversary re-release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Tulip Fever which is finally making it to theaters on its 4th announced release date after over 2 years in limbo. Just because the releases are soft and we’re far away from the release of a $100 million box office film (Girls Trip and Dunkirk on July 21) doesn’t mean there’s nothing worth seeing. That brings us to Wind River, a film from writer/director Taylor Sheridan who was also the the writer behind last year’s Hell or High Water. The two films share some similarities as they both came to theaters with little fanfare in August and were both small budget films (Hell or High Water had an announced $12 million budget while Wind River had an $11 million budget). After seeing Wind River, I recommend it make your “Must See” list of films of 2017 which, at this point, isn’t longer than a few films.
In Wind River, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) finds the body of a teenage Native American woman on the Wind River Indian Reservation. The FBI sends rookie agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) to investigate and the pair team up to figure out who raped and killed the young woman. Lambert’s connections to the girl through the mysterious death of his own daughter (his daughter and the young woman were best friends) and his familiarity with the reservation as well as Banner’s inexperience all factor into Banner’s decision to ask Lambert for his assistance in the investigation. Together, the two set out in their own way to figure out who was behind her death which was caused by her running barefoot in the snow in sub-zero temperatures for many miles after being raped and beaten.
Like Hell or High Water, Sheridan has woven together another film that is engrossing and filled with well developed characters and actors who deliver performances that could be identified as the high water mark of their career. The screenplay is intelligent, the setting is unique and while there’s definitely symbolism in his structure and story, Sheridan never oversells it to the point where it feels forced or fake. Visually, the film is spectacular and the bleakness of the snow and silence of the Wyoming reservation becomes a character itself in a way much like the small Texas community on display in Hell or High Water. That’s not to say Wind River reaches the heights of Hell or High Water but it comes pretty darn close.
What stands out in Wind River besides some excellent career-topping performances by Renner and Olsen (and an excellent small role performance from Graham Greene) is the difficult and depraved conditions the people of the reservation face as they square off with the unforgiving elements and the lack of options available to them. It’s gritty but there’s a softness to it that keeps it from being too tough. It’s dark but there’s an emotional impact that has a way of sneaking up on you as you try to solve the mystery along with the rookie FBI agent and the game hunter. It’s an engrossing and engaging film with an incredible final act that’s head and shoulders better than any other film that has hit theaters this year.
It’s unlikely you’re planning on heading to the theaters this weekend. By all indications, less people are planning to this weekend than any Labor Day weekend in recent memory. However, if you do decide to go and you’re one of the many who has not seen Wind River, this would be the movie to see.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Renner and Olsen
Both Renner and Olsen turn in their best performances of their career. With Olsen, that’s not a huge feat although she has been recognized multiple times in the past couple of years as one of Hollywood’s breakout stars and with performances like Wind River, it’s easy to see why. However, with Renner, that’s a bigger statement as he’s a two-time Academy Award nominee (Best Actor nominee for The Hurt Locker and Best Supporting Actor nominee for The Town) and has had a number of other standout performances. For my money, though, Wind River is the best performance of his career.
- The Elements
Not a fan of the cold or the snow, I’m usually off-put by films that are set in these conditions. Great movies (Fargo immediately comes to mind) have a way of overcoming this bias and Wind River capably does so by showcasing how bleak and grinding these conditions can be on the heart and soul of their inhabitants.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- We Have to Wait Until June 29, 2018 for Sheridan’s Next Work
Sheridan’s next film will come with a screenwriter credit only but he has penned the follow-up to his impressively written 2015 work Sicario and that film — Soldado — will release next June.