Taylor Sheridan is a bankable name in the film industry right now. Look no further than his two screenwriting efforts for proof. Sicario was initially billed as “From Denis Villeneuve – Director of Prisoners” with a “Written by Taylor Sheridan” thrown in but Villeneuve was the big sell
Then along comes Hell or High Water which is “From the writer of Sicario” which still isn’t a name in the trailer but still that means they planned on him being a pretty big draw for it
No mention at all of director David Mackenzie even though Mackenzie directed (in my opinion) one of the best prison films of all time with Starred Up. So we know who is getting a lot of faith from the money people, it’s Taylor Sheridan. So in a move surprising nobody Sheridan has taken this faith and run away with it by getting a shot at directing with Wind River of which he wrote the screenplay as well. I saw the film at Sundance so I’m gonna talk about it a little bit.
First things first, I think Wind River was better than Sicario but not as good as Hell or High Water. Let me explain. Emily Blunt’s lead character in Sicario was terrible. She was incompetent (in the situations we get to see anyway), lost all the time with regard to what was going on, and in the end she’s the only female character in a script dominated by men which wouldn’t be as much of a problem if she wasn’t so weak in comparison. Wind River has pretty much the exact same situation going on with Elizabeth Olsen. She’s a new FBI agent and she’s always two steps behind the male characters, especially Jeremy Renner. The reason it isn’t as much of a problem here is because Renner is really the protagonist, not Olsen. Still, though, Sheridan’s female characters need some work big time. I get that he is learning as he goes but hopefully that steep curve won’t be so rough when the Sicario sequel happens. For that film (Soldado is its title) he actually doesn’t have Blunt’s character in it so hopefully he’s just gonna start fresh.
The reason Hell or High Water is better from a script point of view is the fact that there’s pretty much no women at all. A travesty in modern day? Yes, but Sheridan can’t write women so it’s better in an “if you can’t say something nice don’t say nothin’ at all” kind of way. He writes men very well and the dual coupling of Chris Pine/Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges/Gil Birmingham really drives the story and keeps it interesting and oftentimes fun. The few female characters do mouth off to the men and aren’t as weak as Blunt at least, but then Sheridan falters with Olsen in Wind River.
There are a few other reasons I’m not totally on board with Wind River. One of them is the fact that why did Jeremy Renner have to be Jeremy Renner? He’s a fine actor and he does well in the film but the film takes place on a reservation in Wyoming (the titular Wind River) and Renner (yes, white man Jeremy Renner) at one point says “my people” and that really rubbed me wrong. Why wouldn’t there be a Native American actor in that role if those were going to be lines? It’s especially strange because earlier a character tells him how he doesn’t belong there because he only married into the family. Renner’s character did marry a woman from the reservation, but that doesn’t mean he’s a member by default.
Another thing that took me out of the story was the sheer unbelievability of certain plot points. I try my best to suspend my disbelief during movies but there was a point in Wind River when I just thought to myself “how does that make sense even to that guy?” It sort of builds and builds to the point where I was taken out of the movie which is never a good thing. Hell or High Water and Sicario have their lapses in logic but really in both of them there are justifications for those lapses. Not so in Wind River.
One more thing and then I promise I’ll stop dragging the movie through the mud. This one wasn’t nearly as funny as Hell or High Water. That earlier film is proof that Sheridan can really write some great humor, but Wind River was mostly taking itself much more seriously. That’s fine, but the result to me was a stone faced trudge through the muck for about 40 minutes and then the pace picks up and more action starts happening so we move quicker.
I did like Wind River overall and I would watch it again, but I don’t know that I’d pay to watch it again. There is some great metaphorical work in the film regarding white settlers and their thieving of land from Native Americans. One such image is actually burned in my head because it’s more or less Sheridan bashing you over the head with it which is okay in this case because it’s such a let’s-sweep-it-under-the-rug kind of attitude that we Americans like to adopt sometimes. If you’re a big fan of Sheridan’s work, you’ll feel at home here. I, however, am going to be waiting to see him match up to Hell or High Water.