How bizarre! You wait around for a murder mystery film to hit cinemas and then two come along at once. After seeing the sinister The Limehouse Golem, I was definitely in the mood for another though. It turns out that this film, Wind River, is so much more however. Much much more.
The story begins, as all good murder mysteries do, with a murder. Far out in a Native American reservation named Wind River, miles from the nearest road and even further from the nearest building, a hunter and tracker, tasked with managing predators in the vast region, finds the body of a young woman. She has clearly been raped and subsequently been forced to run for her life. The tribal police are called who then bring in the FBI. A single agent is sent to the case, one that is also completely unprepared for the harshness of the wildness in icy Wyoming. The agent asks the hunter for help on the case and together, they must track down the person responsible.
Already with that premise, I was completely locked in. Few stories are more compelling than contained dramas except this time, the containment is a wintery and mountainous terrain full of lions and other, slightly more unsavoury predators. The setting provides a very real and very palpable tension, making this one of the most suspenseful films I have ever seen. The cinematography lends wonderfully to this with beautiful vistas of the reservation. Shots frequently contain no characters, or just a single one, surrounded by complete whiteness. Despite being set almost entirely in the day, the blanket white means you always feel alone and always on edge because of it.
This might make the setting seem slightly overwhelming and make the characters disappear into the background. Nothing could be further from the truth however. Jeremy Renner plays the lead as the hunter in one his finest performances to date. From another actor, the role might seem one-dimensional, but Renner layers every word he utters so believably. He is entirely convincing as an expert hunter without ever seeming invulnerable. Far from it, he is a man with a melancholic history which still haunts his every action. The FBI agent who recruits him is played by Elizabeth Olsen and despite her role as a fish-out-of-water, she is very capable and it is another great performance. Her relationship with Renner is quite touching and they never stray over the line where they become unbelievable. They act as wonderful foils for each other and bring out different sides to the characters by playing so well together.
The direction from Sicario and Hell or High Water writer, Taylor Sheridan, is first-class. Other critics have commented on the pacing on the film, saying they found it too slow, but I was completely enthralled from the first scene to the last. The story does indeed build quite slowly, making sure you feel the connections to all the characters and following their journey from clue to clue as they try to unravel this case. There are many emotional scenes with the standout for me being an early conversation between Renner and the dead girl’s father. I genuinely felt as upset and angry as the dad, through their performances. Moreover, the pace worked so well for me because it builds right until the incredibly satisfying climax. Honestly, as the plot unfolds and you reach the ending, you will be both shocked and moved and gripped. And then, when you think the film is all over, there is a final line or two of text that overlays the last lingering shot and it will floor you. Completely floor you.
I was astounded by this film and it struck me in ways that I did not expect to be struck. It is a murder mystery with a riveting storyline and deep themes that are incredibly touching. The performances top to bottom are great, particularly from Renner, and they take you from the beginning to the captivating conclusion. Incredibly, it is one of my favourite films of the year. Get watching!