Writer-director Taylor Sheridan, has a clear concept of how he depicts the "new" west. If you're not familiar with the name he plays David Hale on the television show Sons of Anarchy, but more importantly he's written a couple very notable screenplays - "Sicario" and "Hell or High Water". The latter earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.


This time, Sheridan climbs into the directors chair for his second feature film. "Wind River" played the Sundance Film Festival and then Cannes where it won Sheridan the Un Certain Regard award. Once again it demonstrates that Sheridan can create atmosphere.

While "Sicario" danced along the Mexican/US border in the southwest and "Hell or High Water" sits deep in the heart of West Texas, "Wind River" goes north to Wyoming on a snow covered Native American reservation. While the previous frontier films concerned drugs and bank robberies, this one tackles murder.


The film opens with a girl named Natalie (Kelsey Asbille) running for her life barefoot through the snow from someone or something. We then meet the protagonist Cory (Jeremy Renner) as he is picking off wolves who have been attacking ranch herds. He is the local conservation Ranger; this is his territory and he knows it well. Which is why he is taken aback when he comes across Natalies naked, raped body frozen in the snow.


We quickly learn that he death is not unlike the mysterious death of his own daughter on the reservation. That death helped to drive a wedge between he and his ex-wife who also lives on the reservation. The local tribal police start to investigate the murder but because it happened on a native reservation, the FBI sends in agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) - a veritable fish out of water. She requests the assistance of Cory who looks at this as an opportunity to maybe find out what happened to his daughter.

More than trying to create the atmosphere of a murder mystery, Taylor develops a group of people who society overlooks. In "Hell or High Water" the oil companies and banks overlooked the poor brothers trying to keep their mothers home. In "Sicario" it was the drug cartel and narcs who ran roughshod over the poor Mexicans. Here it is this Native tribe that is poor and barely making it in this frigid cold.


Venerable native actor Graham Greene plays Ben, the chief of the tribal police who looks at agent Banner much the same way Josh Brolin's Matt Graver character looked at Emily Blunt's Kate Macer character in "Sicario". However, to accompany is reserved scowl is a well cast group of native talent including Gill Birmingham (who also played deputy in "Hell or High Water") and Apesanahkwat as the tribal elder.


Though the story itself isn't extraordinary, the staging is outstanding with the same sense of desolate gloom as the Coen brothers presented in "Fargo". Indeed you are drawn more into the scene than into the crime investigation itself, which is the films one big shortcoming.


But two time Oscar nominee Renner gives it a good performance as fights his own demons and must track the killer who might have killed his daughter. Greene does a great job as the experienced policeman who lets Renner and the FBI agent do all the hard work while he tries to figure out the pieces. Olsen is only so-so as the fish-out-of-water white girl; she doesn't pull it off as well as Blunt did in "Sicario", but is merely adequate.


Sheridan makes a noteworthy effort in the directors seat and understands what it takes to capture and present an environment. But this time his plot falls into the cookie cutter pile with a color by numbers ending.


"Wind River" is the weakest of Taylor Sheridan's three New American Frontier films but continues his excellent ability to develop complex characters in less than ideal environments.   -- GEOFF BURTON