LOS ANGELES — Taylor Sheridan has a knack for finding and telling stories about parts of the American frontier that Hollywood doesn’t dare touch. The Texas native brought audiences to the U.S.-Mexico border in “Sicario” and to shattered West Texas in “Hell or High Water” through his visceral screenplays. Now in “Wind River,” Sheridan explores cruelty at the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming.
The murder of a young girl sets the story in motion and brings a novice FBI agent Jane (Elizabeth Olsen) to the snowy terrain. She enlists the help of a local game tracker Cory (Jeremy Renner), who is all too familiar with the circumstances.
Sheridan spoke to The Associated Press about the film, which is out in limited release on Friday, and how “Wind River” continues his exploration of prescient themes through a thrilling genre lens.
Remarks have been edited for clarity and brevity.
AP: You’ve referred to “Wind River” as a part of a trilogy with “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water.” Can you elaborate?
SHERIDAN: The macro is it is an exploration of the modern American frontier and how much has changed and how much hasn’t changed and the consequences of assimilation that still reverberate today.
AP: Why did you want to direct this one?
SHERIDAN: It was the only way I could guarantee that the story was told the way I wanted it told. I didn’t trust that another filmmaker would come in and see this world the way I saw it, or I didn’t know one.
AP: Why is it important to you to explore these lost frontiers?
SHERIDAN: As Americans, we are wildly ignorant of our own nation. There are people in Los Angeles who have never been to the West. Same with New York. And most people haven’t been to Los Angeles and New York. And we watch the news and each of these regions is presented in one way and that way is terrifying to the people who are from the other regions. I think that understanding our country fully means understanding all the people in it and realizing we’re just not that different.
AP: But there are also stark differences in the way people live.
SHERIDAN: There needs to be a sense of community and real respect for others in a city. There needs to be that anywhere, but in a city where everyone is right on top of each other there are rules that don’t apply and won’t work in rural American. Here if you get in trouble you call the police and they’re there in 90 seconds. You call the police where I live in Wyoming, which I’ve had to do, they’re like, “Can you hang on? The closest guy is 22 minutes away.” The hospital is 40 minutes away. People can complain about Planned Parenthood or not Planned Parenthood but it doesn’t really matter because it doesn’t exist in my county. You get out to rural America and that’s where the last road is fixed. The last drip of money gets there last, it comes here first. That’s one of the reasons people don’t ever talk about why the mistrust of government exists in rural America. Their idea of government is a bill from the tax assessor, or being told why there is a fracking well next door. One of the great gifts of cinema is you can show a world people don’t know about and learn about it and not judge it.
AP: “Hell or High Water” came at an interesting time around the election. Why do you think it resonated at that moment?
SHERIDAN: I made a story about people who no one makes movies about. And it’s a group of individuals who are struggling just like everyone else and became a very convenient political bullseye. I think that the great duping of the American public that we’re all so different in our ideology actually forces the gulf between the sides, when the opposite is true at the end of the day. People are generally compassionate and generally empathetic and there is always room for compromise, it’s just not politically advantageous to the people in office.
AP: Are you outwardly political?
SHERIDAN No. There are things on both sides of the aisle that I’m a strong supporter of, you know what I mean? I want as little government in my life as possible and yet everyone should be free to express themselves in whatever way they choose. I don’t believe there is actually a political party in America that exists that accurately represents the way most Americans feel. I think we have two antiquated parties.
AP: Finally, is there anything you can say about the “Sicario” sequel, “Soldado”?
SHERIDAN: This one will feel oddly prophetic. People are going to think I’m really smart. I’m not, I just imagined something insane and then a year later the insane happened.
Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr