Wind River is the best movie this year that you likely haven't seen and possibly haven't heard of.
That's the problem with Hollywood these days. While the film won accolades at Cannes (and has done well internationally), it's $11 million budget is it's (or Hollywood's) problem. Hollywood allocates marketing and advertising dollars based primarily on the size of a film's budget. The bigger the budget, the bigger the ad campaign. And then there are the tiny Indie films with budgets of $1 million - $5 million. They are worth the risk of ad dollars because the profit reward can be so enormous. But, in the $10 million - $25 million range, movies get stuck in a no-man's-land.
These are financial decisions. They have nothing to do with the quality of the film in question. These are decisions made by accountants and lawyers, not artists.
Back to Wind River. It is a taut, quiet thriller set in the tundra of mountainous Wyoming on the Wind River Indian Reservation. It unfolds subtly. The tension ratchets. While it's characters are concerned with the rape and murder of a young Native American woman, the film folds in the corrupt politics surrounding greed and law enforcement on Native American land. In this way, Wind River feels a bit like Chinatown. And I know I may be damning the film with hype in writing that.
Jeremy Renner plays a Wildlife tracker. His job is to protect local wildlife (sheep, horses, etc.) from predators like coyotes, wolves and mountain lions. Renner inhabits the meticulous nature of his character's professionalism in extraordinary ways. He is as taut and as tightly wound as the film itself.
Elizabeth Olsen plays a befuddled and naive FBI agent assigned to the case -- she works out of Las Vegas via Tampa, FL. The tundra cold does not agree with her. But she is dogged and brave in unexpected ways. She's not necessarily good at what she does, but she refuses to give up.
Writer/Director Taylor Sheridan should receive Oscar nods in both categories. He allows the story to unfold without trickery or gimmick. And its climax is both surprising and earned. He is an undeniable talent.
Wind River should also receive an Oscar nod as Best Picture. By then it will be out of theaters and onto your TV. Maybe the Hollywood powers-that-be will re-release it to theaters. But don't take the chance. See it now. - Mark Weston