Stars: Jojo Bapteise Whiting, LaDainian Crazy Thunder, Jesse Schmockel, Ashley Shelton-Edwards, Sprague Hollander
The insightful and empathetic co-writing, co-directing debut from actor Riley Keough plays like a less jocular version of TV’s excellent ‘Reservation Dogs’.
It revolves around two Olaga Lakota Native Americans living on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. Bill (Whitling) is a charismatic twenty-three-year-old hustling his way through life by siphoning gas from parked cars and selling on stolen goods. He has two children to two different mothers. One of the mothers is in prison, the other Echo (Schmockel) barely speaks to him, although she does seem to half-entertain one of his money-making schemes when Bill acquires a poodle called Beast and plans to sell the puppies on. A chance encounter with a neighbouring wealthy white man, Tim (Hollander) results in Bill getting a job as a gopher, carrying out questionable assignments that cause him to reflect on his choices.
Matho (Crazy Thunder) is a wily but vulnerable twelve-year-old living with his drug-taking mostly absent dad. He occasionally steals from his father’s stash for money for candy for himself and his friends and has a sweetly-depicted crush on one of his classmates.
The pacing is languid, conveying a pleasing hang-out vibe, even as Bill and Matho’s circumstances becomes more fraught. The intermittent appearance of a stately bison reminds the young protagonists of a heritage far removed from their contemporary all-American hustling lifestyles of petty larceny and macho swagger.
The treatment of the characters and their hardscrabble lives is unvarnished, but respectful and non-judgemental, and the two leads exhibit an arresting naturalistic warmth. David Gallego’s photography is handsome, but stops shorts of over-aestheticizing the protagonists’ surroundings, and, while the subject matter is occasionally harrowing, it is tempered with moments of grace and kindness, with the sequence where the two characters encounter one another and find common ground hugely satisfying. A slightly neat and rushed ending feels like the only misstep.
War Pony is released on 9th June
Follow David on Twitter at @DWill_Crackfilm