Wind River – 5 stars

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Taylor Sheridan, the writer of Sicario and Hell or High Water, has turned in a stunning directorial debut melding his signature economy of dialogue with an accomplished feel for the ebb and flow of backcountry America and a lyrical visual style. The frozen mountains of Wyoming serve as the locale to a murder investigation where FBI outsider (Elizabeth Olsen) partners with a fish and game tracker (Jeremy Renner) and an Indian reservation sheriff (Graham Greene) to solve the rape and murder of a teen found in the snow.

Sheridan is the nephew of a former U.S. Marshal and a Texas sheriff, and as with his prior films, his replication of the patter of law enforcement feels as if he has spent much time at their knee. His characters avoid the bravado and cliche’ of many movie cops. They inhabit a matter-of-fact world, not cartoonish macho, but one that exudes a professional cynicism. Like Emily Blunt in Sicario, Olsen is not the standard female law enforcement officer who has to “prove” herself in a near-all male world. There is no overcompensation.  She just is.

The performances are understated and genuine, and Renner in particular well renders the pain of a haunted but determined man.

Sheridan is also deftly political, never overt but still seamlessly intertwining some of the cultural realities in rural American with the narrative.  It never gets in the way of the pace, and Sheridan’s handling of the thrill part of thriller is expert.  The crescendo to a violent explosion is damn near excruciating

One of the better films of the year, which admittedly ain’t saying much this year, but that shouldn’t be held against this picture.

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