Wind River is almost manipulative enough to be effective. If writer and director Sheridan just could’ve made it through his muted epilogue to the end credits instead of pointing out just where he was manipulative and how what a cheap job he did of it….
But he can’t. Not unless you count Graham Greene basically staying about Sheridan’s terrible dialogue—leads (quotation marks around the s) Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen cannot. Olsen’s bad but it’s just a flat performance in a cop movie. She’s the rookie FBI agent on her own on the Native reservation with no backup. She turns to local professional hunter Renner, who’s got a single expression, a decent ability to tear up, and a truly bad showcase performance. It ought to be Renner’s movie, what with his beyond tragic backstory and Sheridan filling out the runtime with long Renner solo sequences. Usually pointlessly for the narrative, but Sheridan ingloriously dumps Renner’s “subplots” with ex-wife Julia Jones and son Teo Briones.
Briones is particularly pointless. I mean, Jones is pointless, but Briones is get-in-the-way multiple times pointless. Some of Sheridan’s worst writing is the stuff he does with Briones and Renner, though the stuff with Renner and Olsen when they bond is pretty bad, though probably not as bad as the stuff with Renner and Jones.
A lot of Wind River is just Renner giving a bewildering performance. He’s supposed to be a Carhartt-wearing, soulful white cowboy who self-identifies as a member of the Native community because Jones is Native and they made babies. People call him on it throughout and the movie just blows it off. It’s a weird move and contributes to Wind River feeling like it’s missing at least ten minutes, but they’re probably really, really, really bad. Renner’s so bad I had to remind myself multiple times he’s been excellent in the past and should at least he able to handle this picture.
But not with Sheridan directing him. Sheridan directs Renner like he’s Paul Newman; Jeremy Renner is very much not Paul Newman.
Though maybe I’m giving Sheridan too much credit. Because Wind River’s got some terrible direction. Explain to Sheridan and cinematographer Ben Richardson why they might want a tripod terrible. The whole thing is an example of why shaky cam is a bad idea, but twenty years after people started figuring out how to make exceptions to that rule. Sheridan’s also got a bad editor—Gary Roach—making bad cuts. There’s even an old fashioned reverse horizontal jump cut during one of the stylish, Marlboro man but with soul montages.
There aren’t a lot of stylish montages throughout but it opens with a bunch of them. Wind River kind of misses them, because Sheridan treats Olsen like a special guest star, which makes the second act a slog. At least terrible macho but not bad macho montages would distract.
The ending is almost saved thanks to Gil Birmingham, who turns in a nuanced performance, against all odds. But then Sheridan screws it up.
Surprisingly middling score from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, though it’s not like better music would’ve helped. Less obvious and traditional music would’ve helped. But Sheridan likes obvious, likes traditional.
It’d be really nice if he knew how to direct conversation scenes. Even ones with Renner.
Wind River’s got the occasional effective moment, but only because Sheridan’s manipulative and cheap.
I’m not sure I’m disappointed with the film, but I’m not thrilled I watched it; Birmingham or not.
Also didn’t need to hear Cave and Ellis hack it out for pool money.