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What’s up everybody? I’m Joe Baress and this IS “Five Minutes in the Film Room.”
Taylor Sheridan put his writing talent on display with 2015’s Sicario and 2016’s Hell or High Water. Audiences and critics praised both films as Sicario earned three Oscar nominations, and Hell or High Water earned four, including best original screenplay and best picture. I thoroughly enjoyed both of those films, so when I saw Sheridan wrote and directed Wind River I was on board without seeing a trailer. But could Sheridan handle the shift into the director’s chair? … Let’s go to the tape.
I don’t want to give away much about Wind River, because I went into the theater without knowing anything about the plot. We rarely have that luxury anymore now that even trailers have their own teaser trailers.
The first thing that jumped out at me in Wind River is the performance of Jeremy Renner. It’s absolutely phenomenal. The best of his career. He’s subtle yet carrying an everlasting pain on his face. When emotion eases through his face, it feels so real. In Wind River, he portrays a hunter in the wilderness of Wyoming. He clearly has the weapons training from past films such as The Hurt Locker so he obviously nails that part of the role, too.
The difficulty for notable actors is to distance themselves from a character he or she has portrayed in the past. With Renner as one of the Avengers, it could be tough to focus on him as a different character if the performance doesn’t shift far enough from how the causal movie-goer has come to know Renner. Well he showed us his best. It’s even a better performance than his Oscar-nominated role in The Hurt Locker. I’ve really enjoyed his career and felt bad for him that he always seems to be a side character in big films. When he took over the leading role in the Bourne franchise, the film lacked, but not because of his performance. I’m happy to see him in the lead again, even if it is an independent film, because it could end in an Oscar nomination. Renner is that good.
Sheridan has a style with his screenplays that I truly appreciate. And it’s because he respects the audience. He doesn’t tell you everything about the characters upfront. He tells what you need to know in the moment. Then you learn more and more about the characters as the movie progresses. When you respect the audience’s intelligence, it keeps movie-goers engaged throughout the film. Also, the dialogue itself is intelligent and real. At the same time, there aren’t any over-the-top monologues that take you out of the film. It’s the perfect blend, and it makes the relationships in the movie realistic.
I’d have to say Sheridan nailed the directing, too. He has one other directorial credit, which is 2011’s Vile, but he looked like a seasoned veteran. I don’t know if this story was close to his heart, but it’s based on true events and gives the audience an important message. I wouldn’t doubt it if this movie hit home with him, because he clearly understands the material and knows the story he wants to tell.
Wind River also has beautiful cinematography. A lot of the shots where characters ride miles on snowmobiles are just breathtaking. While I wouldn’t call this an action movie, it does have some pretty impressive and thrilling action sequences aided by some great camera work and unique shots.
My one nitpick is Elizabeth Olsen’s performance. I do enjoy the Avengers going off and working on independent films together in between their blockbuster Marvel movies, but I think Olsen is a step behind Renner in Wind River. Not that they don’t have chemistry, but her performance in the beginning is kind of stale. Renner carries her through some scenes before she picks it up toward the end. I wasn’t immersed in her character right away. There’s a difference between subtle and flat acting. Olsen was flat for half the movie. Sounding like she was just reading lines. Again, she picks it up well by the end. It just takes a little bit to get there. Like I said, Renner’s performance was the best of his career, but if Olsen matched it, similar to how Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence went toe-to-toe in Silver Linings Playbook, I think Wind River is a shoo-in for a best picture nomination.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Wind River blew me away with phenomenal directing, writing and cinematography and a career-defining performance from Jeremy Renner. Taylor Sheridan now sits on my list of directors and writers that I will go see their movies without knowing the plot or seeing the trailer. I’m just there without question. Elizabeth Olsen lagged a little behind Renner, but that is just a nitpick. I in no way dislike her performance. She doesn’t detract from the film, but if she was a little better it would have elevated the movie. However, when movies leave me nitpicking, that means they’re all ready great and when the season arrives, I expect Wind River will receive some well-deserved Oscar attention.
I’ll rank Wind River as a touchdown. I’ll even tack on the extra point. And as far as Taylor Sheridan movies I’ve seen, the writer/director is batting 1.000.