I jumped into this film blind, based only a few recommendations from Twitter. The minimal promotional material around the internet make it sound like a Coen Brothers crime movie like Fargo or Blood Simple. Jessica Pressler’s Hustlers is actually a closer analogy. Little Woods is a bittersweet character study of a woman forced by circumstance into criminal enterprise and how that decision bonds her to another woman. The film is one of those small movies that haunts your brain and makes a bigger impact on you than you realize while watching.
In an oil fracking boom town in North Dakota, Ollie (Tessa Thompson) has a week left on her probation on drug conviction. The bright spot in Ollie’s week is her check-in with her parole officer. As she is trying to run out the clock she is face with foreclosure of her recently deceased mother’s house and is willing to let it go to attempt a fresh start in Spokane Washington until her estranged single mom sister, Deb (Lily James) announces she’s pregnant. Ollie has always been the problem solver in the family and decides to return to selling painkillers for the short-term money. Over the next few days as her life spirals dangerously out of control Ollie and Deb grow emotionally closer even though Ollie’s ultimate goal will separate them physically.
First time director Nia DaCosta avoids the pitfalls of over doing the melodrama or sentimentality The film has a lived in, blue collar feel. Everything just feels grubby, yet DaCosta manages to find some lovely images out of the oil, concrete, and desperation. Although the film has virtually no violence it crackles with danger. Threat of violence, particularly sexual violence against the sisters is palpable throughout the film. DeCosta elicits strong and delicate performances out of Thompson and James. Thompson and James are not actresses that have moved me much in the past, but Little Woods made me a believer in both actresses and their director.
Available on Amazon Prime and Hulu
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