Last year, director Andrew Dominik released One More Time With Feeling, a fascinating character study/documentary showcasing a grieving Nick Cave -- his teen son had just unexpectedly died falling from a cliff -- pouring existential amounts of grief into the final tracks of his album Skeleton Tree.

Cave now lends his moody, atmospheric sounds to the soundtrack of Wind River, another film about a young person felled by the elements -- this time in the expansive, snowy trails of a Native American reservation in Wyoming.

In this case, the teenager is a local girl, Natalie (Kelsey Asbille), and her frostbitten body is found by Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a wildlife agent, who quickly teams up with novice FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen). Foul play seems undeniable, and the movie takes on a somewhat formulaic plotline (twist 1, twist 2, discovery, and shock, the detectives develop a relationship) as we discover how Natalie ended up barefoot six miles from the nearest residence.

What makes Wind River rise slightly above a network detective show is the performances -- Elizabeth Olsen, particularly, gives dimension to a character that is essentially a beautiful female lead helped along by a male lead that's stronger in both physicality and mind (his outdoors expertise gives the duo every major lead they'll need). But Olsen somehow gives Jane Banner some complexity, especially in one scene where she stops a dozen men from breaking out into a full on battle royale while also betraying some of the nerves a new detective must feel when assuming a position of authority.

The other point of interest comes from writer-director Taylor Sheridan's choice of setting. Indian reservations are not your typical locale for a police procedural, and Sheridan is clearly hoping to infuse some political commentary into this thriller, as we descend upon the impoverished, ill-resourced (six officers for a land the size of Rhode Island) Wind River Indian Reserve. And as the film's post-script states, no stats for missing women on Native lands are kept.

The problem with Wind River is this angle just isn't pushed enough. When Cory and Jane bust into a local drug house to find the victim's brother, Chip (Martin Sensmeier), the words “Indians Always Beat Cowboys,” are scrawled along the living room wall, like graffiti. The way these 20-somethings are drowning in addiction under the weight of having no future and not out -- yet are still grasping for a sense of identity and pride -- is almost more compelling than the principal plot. It's a shame because we only get back to Chip for five more minutes near the movie's end. Otherwise the Native angle just isn't really explored. Remove the (admittedly beautiful) snowy cinematography, and this plot really could have taken place anywhere.

That's not to say the plight of these women -- and in particular the young woman at the center of the movie's plot -- aren't interesting, but ironically, she's not in the movie much either. Natalie's character is in exactly one scene, and half of that scene is dedicated to a fairly graphic rape. The bulk of the movie is dedicated to two opposites, gritty frontiersman Cory and Las Vegas detective Jane, uncovering clues and developing a certain intimacy through their shared trials. The film honestly left me wanting a documentary so the setting could be fully developed without feeling just like a gimmick.


Still, director Taylor Sheridan at least attempts to bring an interesting POV to his films. 2016's Hell or High Water was less about a bank heist and more about the socioeconomic conditions that turn everyday people into criminals. Marrying social commentary with entertainment can make for great artistry. But in the case of Wind River, we needed more than mere teases of the culture to make the film more than just a well-acted, beautifully shot episode of SVU.