Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water) takes the helm on Wind River, a spiritual sequel of sorts to both Hell or High Water and Sicario, his first attempt at film writing. Prior to settling in behind the camera, Sheridan patrolled the other side, working as an actor in action-oriented television fare, from one-off appearances on shows like Walker, Texas Ranger and NYPD Blue to more sustained efforts like his stint on Sons of Anarchy.
It is plain to see that he brings a jaded perspective to what we’ve come to expect from the typical genre exercises. His scripts focus on outsiders on either side of the law and order divide. Sicario put the spotlight on a female FBI agent (Emily Blunt) enlisted by an amorphous governmental task force to take an undisclosed (and undefined) role in the border drug war between the US and Mexico, while Hell or High Water two-stepped from a pair of seemingly mismatched Rangers (Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham) to a duo of desperate brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) seeking to remain afloat in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis.
Wind River takes us to another unstable crossroad, as FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) gets assigned to a murder case on a Native American reservation. There she’s required to team up with the town’s veteran wild game tracker (Jeremy Renner) who has deep ties to the community and a haunting loss of his own that mirrors the crime under investigation. The procedural elements of the narrative get shuffled, so that the front and center drama rests on the shoulders of these two characters.
Longstanding concerns about politics and the social order (from gender to the friction between Native Americans and the government) loom large, choking off the usual mindless release we gain from the explosive scenes of violence that pop off here. Sheridan shows us that living the way of the gun has harsh consequences that cannot be washed away, no matter how strong the current of the river or the gust of wind blowing by. (Opens Friday at area theaters) (R) Grade: B+