'Wind River' Review: Jeremy Renner Has Never Been Better In This Snowy, Shocking Thriller [Sundance]

In the past two years, Taylor Sheridan has delivered acclaimed crime thrillers as the screenwriter behind the 2015 drug trafficking hit Sicario and last year's award-worthy heist thriller Hell or High Water. Now he's made his directorial debut at Sundance.

Wind River follows stoic and skilled fish and wildlife service agent Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) as he discovers a young woman's body in the snowy mountains of Wyoming while on assignment to find a pack of mountain lions who have been wreaking havoc on the local livestock of the titular Indian reservation. What follows is a crime thriller that feels like an extended episode of a crime procedural, but takes a shocking, and thrilling turn.

Read on for our full Wind River review.

With the local tribal police chief believing they have a homicide on their hands, FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is called in from Las Vegas, unprepared for the harsh cold of the climate and the drastically different culture of a small town in an Indian reservation. She may not be suited for this particular assignment, but she has attitude to spare, and learns plenty along the way, desperate to give some semblance of justice to these people.

Though the script for Wind River also comes from Taylor Sheridan, it's not quite as sharp as Sicario or Hell or High Water. While it provides some thoughtful and moving insight into the struggles of life in a small town Indian reservation, it's never quite on par with the richly drawn characters of Hell or High Water, or the gritty intensity of Sicario. For the first two acts, the movie plays out like an episode of Law & Order or CSI, just with some higher caliber acting and a beautiful, snowy setting that is shot magnificently by cinematographer Ben Richardson, doing his best work yet.

However, when the third act comes around, we get what Taylor Sheridan does best. The climax of this movie packs a shocking punch with an intense face-off that will have you gripping your armrests in theaters. It's not exactly enough to overshadow the derivative nature of the first two acts, but it's still pure entertainment and suspense as only Taylor Sheridan can deliver.

Wind River Review

Perhaps the most remarkable element of the film is Jeremy Renner. The star of films such as Arrival, The Town, and The Avengers franchise has always done perfectly fine in supporting roles. But with the obvious exception of his Oscar-nominated performance in The Hurt Locker, most of his turns as a leading man haven't been anything to write home about. What Renner does here, though, is subtle and strong.

The victim at the center of Wind River happens to be the best friend of a teenage daughter that Renner's character lost years ago. However, rather than becoming some kind of Jack Reacher or Bryan Mills type, letting all his anger and emotions get the better of him as he sets out on this therapeutic revenge, he's cold and calculated, with only a brief glint of sadness reaching his eyes. Holding back that level of emotion, but still letting it resonate in small, finely tuned moments instead of just being aggressively angry and overwhelmed with emotion — that's what makes this Jeremy Renner's best performance yet.

Elizabeth Olsen comes in with a solid performance too, giving off a "Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs" vibe, though with a little more confidence and feistiness. Other notable performances come from Native American actors such as Gil Birmingham and Graham Greene, adding some cultural variance that you might not otherwise fine in your standard thriller of this nature — not just as tokens for diversity's sake, but as integral pieces of the film's setting and drama.

Wind River has enough thrills and suspense to satisfy, even if it doesn't hold up to the quality of Taylor Sheridan's previous work as a screenwriter. At the very least, Sheridan shows great promise as a filmmaker with his directorial debut. And when the time comes for Sheridan to deliver another script that's as good as Sicario and Hell or High Water, I sincerely hope he gets a chance to direct it himself so we can see how he evolves behind the camera./Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10