Winter in the Blood (NR)

Drama 98 August 20, 2014
By Alan Scherstuhl
Here's a film so rich with strong scenes, natural beauty, fascinating faces, and heaps of bristling dialogue that you'll buy a moment like this: Rounding up cattle on one of those elevated Montana plains that seems to scrape up against the bottom of heaven, a Native American kid says to his pal "Stop lollygagging, numb nuts." Everything is so shrewdly framed, lit, and performed that, sure, lollygagging sounds natural, even from a child. But that moment comes as a haphazard flashback, a jagged burst of memory that interrupts -- but doesn't especially inform -- the film's tall-tale present.

Jumpy as a newborn colt, the movie is forever flashing back, both to remembered moments and possible memories of what might have happened when Native American Everyhero Virgil First Raise (a sturdy Chaske Spencer) was blackout drunk. Sometimes, the flashbacks that might not be flashbacks bottom out into their own flashbacks. The movie doesn't feel like a puzzle to solve; it's a puzzle to assemble.

There's still much to admire in it: On a half-assed quest to find the wife who stole his gun, one morning, Virgil comes to, lying beneath a glass coffee table. We see him from above, through the glass, face framed by copper tumblers holding stubbed-out cigarettes. He's pretty stubbed out himself, enough that it's not cryptic at all when a woman later tells him, "You look like you've seen taller grass." What's tougher to grasp is why Virgil, after committing an act of sexual violence at odds with the tone of the rest of the film, wanders the grasslands and muses, "Sometimes you have to lean into the wind to stand straight."
Alex Smith, Andrew J. Smith Chaske Spencer, David Morse, Gary Farmer, Julia Jones, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson Alex Smith, Andrew J. Smith Kino Lorber


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