LITTLE WOODS (2019)
Tessa Thompson, Lily James, Luke Kirby, James Badge Dale, Lance Reddick
Directed by Nia DaCosta
Let’s talk about Tessa Thompson. The 35-year old actress who can easily pass for someone in their twenties, appeared last year in Boots Riley’s “Sorry to Bother You,” the science fiction film “Annihilation,” and she reprised her role as Bianca in “Creed II.” She’s also a part of the Marvel universe in the role of Valkyrie in “Thor: Ragnarok” and will reunite with Chris Hemsworth in the reboot “Men In Black International” this summer. The in-demand actress may appear to be scaling down her roles for the indie drama “Little Woods” when in fact it’s one of her biggest and best performances.
Shot around Austin, the storyline could easily take place in Texas where the oil and gas industry represents a major part of the workforce. Thompson plays Ollie, a former drug dealer in Little Woods, North Dakota who has almost completed her probation for smuggling painkillers across the Canadian border. What started out as an undertaking to help ease her terminally ill mother’s pain, became a money-making enterprise for Ollie who began selling OxyContin to the local frackers, many whom become injured working in the booming oilfield business.
Lily James (“Baby Driver”) plays Ollie’s younger sister Deb, a destitute single-mom raising a son in an abandoned RV while working as a waitress. Life is hard for Ollie and Deb and just about anyone not employed in the oilfield. To make matters worse, the bank is looking to foreclose Ollie’s house and Deb is pregnant once again by the same deadbeat dad Ian (James Badge Dale) who spends most of his time drunk.
Like the excellent “Winter’s Bone” the majority of “Little Woods” takes place in a small rural community as our female protagonists try to make ends meet. Ollie and Deb are survivors forced into an underworld filled with opioids, abortions, and foreclosures. If the scenario sounds bleak, it is but there are bright spots like Ollie’s probation officer Carter (a very good Lance Riddick) who goes out of his way to make sure she stays on a straight path and out of trouble. There’s even hope with the bank as a young loan officer does what he can to keep Ollie from losing her mother’s home.
“Little Woods” opens with a scene in the countryside of Ollie burying a stash of pill bottles. It also signifies Ollie burying her past. She’s a victim of her environment trying to better her life. Once she’s forced back into her old ways DaCosta does an excellent job of creating tension for the duration of the film. Luke Kirby plays a drug dealer who sees Ollie as a threat adding to the film’s restive narrative.
The performances by Thompson and James are first-class as the two sisters maneuver through the flawed American healthcare system in this biting portrayal of a socioeconomic climate that many people find themselves caught in with no hope of liberation.
(3 ½ stars)
Now showing in Houston at the Regal Edwards Greenway Grand Palace.