Little Woods Review
R: Language and some drug material
NEON, Tango Entertainment, Buffalo Picture House, Extra A Productions, Automatik, Stoneboies Entertainment, Water's End Productions
1 Hr and 43 Minutes
Writer & Dir: Nia DaCosta
Cast:: Tessa Thompson, Lily James, Luke Kirby, James Badge Dale, Lance Reddick
A modern Western that tells the story of two sisters, Ollie and Deb, who are driven to work outside the law to better their lives. For years, Ollie has illicitly helped the struggling residents of her North Dakota oil boomtown access Canadian health care and medication. When the authorities catch on, she plans to abandon her crusade, only to be dragged in even deeper after a desperate plea for help from her sister.
With nearly every film I’ve seen at the festival so far, a numerous amount ended on a somber and depressing note that just leaves with the message of, “Well, life sucks!” Not many had that much substance to them and the pacing was the same in most of them except “Little Woods.” What makes the film stand far out from the crowd is both the pacing and the direction.
DaCosta’s direction of this story that she has spent years developing is passionate and you see it with each frame. Her entire cast is on their A-game which says a lot for her directorial debut. DaCosta wrote a powerful story with such grace and care where her characters are fully complex and the situation is on a grand scale that is both intense and grounded. She captivates her audience with an engaging hook that keeps you at the edge of your seat as you constantly question, are these sisters going to be okay?
Tessa Thompson plays this hustler out in North Dakota who was once a drug dealer and is now out of the game after getting busted when trying to cross the border with drugs from Canada. Ollie is a person who is desperately trying to get her shit together to make ends meet and move on from her past. She has a supportive parole officer who is making sure she gets on the right path.
Then, there is her adoptive sister Deb who is living out in a van with her son while she is unexpectedly expecting and is in a desperate search for an abortion. Her baby daddy is a deadbeat supplier who works with Ollie and doesn’t have anything to provide. Sadly, Deb is way too poor to afford a proper abortion procedure. The two sisters are living separate lives until they learn that the house they grew up in is going into foreclosure.
The driving force of the story is the motivation set by Deb and Ollie to save their house. Now, Ollie has to go back to her drug game to earn money for the house and Deb has to save money to get an abortion. This a story about people facing real life issues and trying their best to change them for the better, even if the universe throws unforeseen obstacles in their way. “Little Woods” is all about persevering.
With nearly each role she has tackled - a wide variety of strong characters ranging from Sam White in “Dear White People” to Valkyrie in “Thor: Ragnarok”, Tessa Thompson has managed to provide powerful screen presence with each role that she takes. Ollie is another incredible character under Thompson’s belt in which she delivers yet another captivating performance, if not the best one of her career by far. Just like Valkyrie in “Thor: Ragnarok,” Ollie is a character that nobody perceives as a woman, but as a person. When someone acts cruel towards her, it is never because of her being a female. Ollie is strong, hard working, and carries a lot of heft not only in the movie but also for her family. She is a character who doesn’t particularly make good decisions, but is a relatable person who tries her best to make ends meet. Even her dialogue is often chilling at times where her words just sink inside of you as you just look down and say
This is a minor nitpick so bear with me. Throughout the film, Ollie and Deb go through many obstacles in order for them to save their house. Yet, the way the two manage to get out of certain situations, primarily one in particular, is too convenient. I’m not complaining about it by any means, but damn the way they both get out of one intense situation is too easy. Then again, DaCosta does her job thoroughly well for that entire sequence and has you holding your breath, then gasping for air.
Last year, Lily James starred in Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver” where she played the love interest, Deb who works as a waitress. Here, James plays a character named Deb who also WORKS AS A WAITRESS! Granted, her Deb is a marginally a stronger character here than she was in “Baby Driver”. I find it quite hysterical that James has played characters with both the same name and the same occupation. I’ve never witnessed this in an actor/actress’s career and I just wanted to point out how funny that is.
Films like “Little Woods” are the stories that I love to watch. Stories like this where they feel real and authentic; where characters have a clear motivation and go to the ends of the Earth to complete their objective by any means necessary are my favorite type of narratives.
Powerfully directed by newcomer Nia DaCosta and an amazing performance by Tessa Thompson, “Little Woods” is an amazing film with a powerful story that is passionate with determination as strength, like the two lead characters.