Winter in the Blood

winter in the blood posterSet in Montana and based on a James Welch novel, Winter in the Blood follows a Blackfoot Indian (Virgin – Chaske Spencer) as he looks for his missing rifle and, subconsciously, for a purpose in life. His journey is haunted by the absence of several figures, from the wife who stole the rifle to the older brother who took care of him and the father who drank himself to death.

During the Q&A following the LA Film Festival premiere screening, filmmakers Andrew & Alex Smith mentioned that one of the biggest issues they faced adapting the eponymous novel was the omnipresence of flashbacks and, as a result, the story is intertwined with exhilarating scenes of Virgin’s youth contrasting sharply with the disillusioned figure he became as an adult.

The first thing you will probably notice watching Winter in the Blood is that, unfortunately, the directors seem to have been overwhelmed  by the intricate structure of novel. The transitions between the current narrative and the past are indeed so awkward that they continuously disturb the beauty of the story and scenery rather than creating smooth transitions – to give you an idea, it kind of feels like the filmmakers had hired editors from the Hallmark channel to help them put the movie together. But the uneasiness doesn’t stop here, as the movie keeps taking you between high and lows, alternating between solid sequences and weak moments: besides the editing, the other issue is that some of the performances are uneven, even the usually subtle David Morse being here in full overacting mode.

These flaws are even more unnerving that you can feel that a good movie is hiding underneath. It’s not that the directors or the actors do not have talent but the novel is so ambitious that it would have needed a stronger, more experienced direction to handle the beauty, despair and humor in a cohesive way – I can’t help thinking about what Terrence Malick could have done with such a subject.

While the overall experience proves to be pretty disappointing, this doesn’t mean that Winter in the Blood is a total failure either. The filmmakers certainly took full advantage of the scenery and most actors have enough charisma to make you feel for their characters, even if their performances were flawed – I more particularly enjoyed colorful supporting characters such as the mother, step-father and grand-father.

Of course, James Welsh’ story is the most important element here and it is delivered in a classic American way. Andrew & Alex Smith also successfully show how Virgin lacks a connection to the world. He’s an Indian who liked to play cowboys when he was a kid; he is an alcoholic; he is estranged from his wife; he doesn’t seem to bound with his mother, step-father and the only persons he’s been attached to are his brother and grandmother. As for the Americana soundtrack by Heartless Bastards, it finely supports those themes, emphasizing the dark beauty of the story.

Engaging but somewhat as broken as its central character, Winter in the Blood cannot be considered a successful adaptation, which is too bad. Rather this is one of these movies that can used a shortcut for those of us who are not familiar with the original work and don’t have time reading it.

Director: Andrew Smith, Alex Smith – Actors: Chaske Spencer, David Morse – Running Time: 1:40 – Year: 2013 – Country: USA

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Fred Thom

Fred Thom

Editor-in-Chief/Founder/Film Critic at Plume Noire
The founder and editor-in-chief of Plume Noire, Fred Thom covers film festivals and writes movie reviews. He was born in Marseilles, France and is now living in Los Angeles, California.

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