Taylor Sheridan isn't afraid to embrace genre. His Wind River plays more like an unusually well-made episode of CSI: Wyoming than it does the highly anticipated directorial effort by the screenwriter of Hell or High Water (which have been last year's best-written film).
Set on the desolate, snow-covered Wind River reservation, it follows the efforts of expert marksman and haunted tough guy Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) and tenderfoot FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) as they investigate the death of a local teenage girl found frozen in the middle of nowhere. It's a solid mystery setup: The girl, who may have been raped, appears to have been running away from something, and our heroes need to find out not just who's responsible for her murder but what terrified her so.
Sheridan's feel for psychology and setting are in fine evidence here. Wind River's landscapes are forbidding and beautiful. Cory, whose ex-wife also lives on the reservation, once lost a teen daughter in similar circumstances, and he can empathize with the girl's anguished, nearly suicidal parents. Because the film pays such attention to grief and atmosphere, I can forgive it some of its more frustratingly conventional plotting choices.
In Hell or High Water, Sheridan reimagined (and along the way reinvented) genre archetypes (the aging lawman, the outlaw on the run, the faithful partner, etc.) with such vigor that the movie became largely about them and their interactions, giving the whole thing a mythical kick. Here, the archetypes are largely functional in delivering a familiar thriller narrative -- satisfying, though ultimately forgettable.