“LITTLE WOODS” — 3 stars — Lily James, Tessa Thompson, Luke Kirby, Charlie Ray Reid, James Badge Dale; R (language and some drug material); Tower; running time: 105 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — “Little Woods” is about good and desperate people who have made bad decisions and work their way into more bad decisions as a result.
Set in present day North Dakota against the burgeoning fracking industry, the film is built around the interconnected plight of two sisters. Ollie (Tessa Thompson) is a former drug dealer who is a few days from completing probation, trying to get by selling coffee and doing laundry for rig workers while she applies for more lucrative jobs. In an early meeting with her parole officer Carter (Lance Reddick) she hears the famous last words: “You’re so close. Please stay out of trouble.”
Ollie’s sister Deb (Lily James) has her own set of challenges, including a sick son named Johnny (Charlie Ray Reid), a deadbeat baby daddy named Ian (James Badge Dale). She’s also living under the constant fear of having her RV towed out of the parking lot where she and other residents have set up a makeshift community, thanks to the local housing shortage. Deb’s got a steady job at a local diner and is studying for a college entrance exam, but then she discovers she’s pregnant again.
Taking the baby to term is going to cost Deb at least $8,000, which is two thousand more than it’s going to cost Ollie to settle the foreclosure that is threatening to put her in a parking lot as well. Every other person Ollie meets pesters her about going back to dealing prescription meds, including Bill (Luke Kirby), the town’s top dealer since Ollie went clean. Ollie’s one solution seems to be a stash of 500 pills she buried in the woods up near the Canadian border prior to her arrest.
It isn’t hard to guess where things are going from here. The only question is what is going to happen to Ollie once she decides to start dealing again, and the simple answer is: a lot.
Director Nia DaCosta’s moody film is a portrait of desperation, and how life and/or the system can seem to cut you off at every pass. It’s a well-produced and sobering bummer and, if anything, its primary fault is that it tries to make a depressing ending feel slightly upbeat and a little too conclusive.1 comment on this story
Starting with Thompson, continuing with James and working right down through supporting turns from Dale and Reddick, “Little Woods” is anchored by a cast that draws out the best of their characters. It also manages to touch on a variety of issues like drug addiction, abortion and health care without getting too preachy, remaining ambiguous enough to let the audience just feel the pain of the circumstances.
There are some tense moments, and some twists that are easy to see coming, but overall, “Little Woods” is a thoughtful movie built on a compelling story. Just don’t put it on at a party.
Rating explained: “Little Woods” draws an R-rating for sporadic profanity and regular drug references, as well as some frightening moments and brief sexual content.