Taylor Sheridan a filmmaker to follow

Taylor Sheridan a filmmaker to follow

Taylor Sheridan is probably best remembered as the deputy in “Sons of Anarchy” who didn’t make it past the second season. It’s best to think of him as a writer and director now, and in his two previous films, “Sicario” about the drug trade and “Hell or High Water” with two bank-robbing brothers, Sheridan has solidified his credibility as both.

This latest movie, set against the stark winter wilderness of Wyoming, is not as cohesive as the first two, but consider it merely a fumble rather than a loss because it still has a lot to offer. Most of the issues involve a lightweight plot and a questionable choice late in the film to switch the perspective. Sheridan also tries to cram in some socio-political issues related to the plight of Native Americans, with mixed results.

Jeremy Renner plays Cory Lambert, a game warden with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Deep in the snow-covered territory on a reservation where he’s tracking a bear killing livestock, he finds a young girl, possibly raped and dead from exposure. Ben (Graham Greene), in charge of law enforcement on the reservation, calls in the FBI, but the rookie agent who is sent is ill-equipped and unprepared for what she finds.

Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olson) arrives without even a jacket to ward off the harsh climate, and she seems to be a bit overwhelmed by the lack of resources she needs to solve the crime. Cory, meanwhile, is already working up the tracks he found near the body and positing theories to her. It doesn’t take her long to officially ask for his help.

This plays out as a pretty tense who-dunnit with a lot of possible suspects nicely narrowed down. If you’re quick, you’ll catch one clue that jumps out early on, it won’t spoil the story. The procedural drama works out fine with some soul searching thrown in. It seems Cory has his own personal tragedy that this murder is dredging up. And, he also a good friend of the dead girl’s parents, which makes the horrible crime even more personal for him.

Renner is a solid actor and this is the perfect character for him. It’s also nice to see some Native American actors like Greene working in a film. He is probably best remembered for “Dancers with Wolves” in 1990. It’s Olson who doesn’t quite fit her part, although she gives it a good try. It’s hard to believe that when the call goes out for help from the FBI, this is who they send, but her inexperience and naivety are germane to the plot.

This may not be Sheridan’s strongest film, but it works on a lot of levels. The choice to set it in Wyoming during a raw winter makes it even more compelling as scenes are set against blizzards and deep snow drifts where the actors are visibly reacting to the cold. The bleakness of it all reflects on the conditions on the reservation and effect it has on those that live there, and that sense of isolation and despair is tangible.

Taylor Sheridan is fast becoming a filmmaker on my watch list. His stories are as fascinating as the characters he fashions. His movies can be violent and disturbing, but not without purpose, as the opening scene in “Sicario,” where DEA agents find a dozen or more dead bodies stuffed in the walls of a drug cartel safe house on the border. Here it comes late in the film as Jane and Cory close in on the suspects leading to a frenzied, breathless shoot out.

“Wind River” offers some chills to cool off during this hot summer.