Tracker Pixel for Entry

​In an Excellent Debut, Writer-Director Nia DaCosta Explores ‘Little Woods’

by Greg Carlson | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Cinema | March 27th, 2019

Screen capture of Little Woods

Set in the fictional Little Woods, North Dakota -- a small town in the western oil patch not too far from the Canadian border -- Nia DaCosta’s first feature film as writer-director marks an auspicious and confident debut. Recalling some of the same issues explored in Courtney Hunt’s memorable “Frozen River,” “Little Woods” also shares its point of view through the harrowing day-to-day of two working-class women pushed to break the law to survive. While “Frozen River” dealt with the illegal trafficking of immigrants across the northern border, “Little Woods” addresses the limitations of the U.S. healthcare system via the smuggling of prescription pharmaceuticals. DaCosta’s commentary is not limited to the state of absurd drug costs. She also acknowledges the exploitation of the poor by predatory energy speculators, the frustrations of mortgage options for a person of meager means, and abortion access.

Despite the checklist of social issues and the mostly erroneous descriptions identifying the movie as a kind of western, “Little Woods” operates with the tension of a crime thriller. Tessa Thompson adds yet another astonishing performance to her already remarkable filmography. As Ollie, Thompson perfects the weary guardedness that comes from hand-to-mouth living. Coming up on the end of a term of mandated supervision, the reminder given to Ollie by her probation officer Carter (Lance Reddick) that she is just days away from successful completion should clue the audience that the final stretch is going to be a rough ride. Carter’s encouragement of and belief in Ollie doesn’t prevent him from doing his job, and DaCosta puts together a brilliantly nerve-wracking sequence when Carter pays less-than-truthful Ollie a surprise visit.

Just as she approaches the finish line, Ollie’s single-mom sister Deb (Lily James) confesses that she is pregnant and uncertain about her short term housing options. Coming up with even a few thousand dollars to postpone foreclosure on their recently deceased mother’s place is out of reach. Navigating the system is difficult enough, but Ollie’s troubles are exacerbated by both the father of Deb’s young son (James Badge Dale) and a competing local dealer (Luke Kirby) very unhappy to learn Ollie is getting back in the trade. In large ways and small, DaCosta sharply explores the ways in which women navigate a hostile environment dominated by men.

Those familiar with the short and long-term impact of hydraulic fracturing on the Bakken formation’s North Dakota oil boom will immediately recognize the living conditions of the men and women working in and around the industry. The look and feel of Yvonne Boudreaux’s production design, Patrick Jackson’s set decoration, and Colin Wilkes’ costuming evoke the tough realities seen in nonfiction films like Isaac Gale’s “Sweet Crude Man Camp,” J. Christian Jensen’s “White Earth,” Jesse Moss’ “The Overnighters,” and Rita Baghdadi and Jeremiah Hammerling’s “My Country No More.” And even though “Little Woods” was shot in Texas, most North Dakotans won’t find much of anything amiss in the representation.

DaCosta is flat-out terrific at constructing scene after scene of anxious menace. I can’t wait to see what she does collaborating with Jordan Peele on the upcoming “Candyman.” The examples are plentiful (just look at what the director does with a clinic waiting room), but Deb’s harrowing quest to obtain a fake ID while Ollie casually tries to distract a cop is a master class in cross-cutting. DaCosta intensifies the dread of being busted with the terrifying alarm of a possible sexual assault. Sexism and toxic masculinity are not unusual in this genre, but DaCosta’s emphasis on sisterhood and the presentation of a female point of view turn “Little Woods” into a fresh, must-see cinematic experience.

"Little Woods" was named Best Narrative Feature at the 2019 Fargo Film Festival and was selected as the closing night film. The film opens in select theaters on April 19, 2019.  

Recently in:

After nearly two and a half years since the people of North Dakota voted to pass the Compassionate Care Act into law in the state, medical marijuana is finally available to patients. Only one dispensary is open right now, but seven…

It was an, “aha,” moment, said Jeremy Jensen. A woman had her vehicle towed into the Fix It Forward Auto Care shop in Moorhead. Jensen and fellow Fix It Forward Auto Care co-founder Matt Carlson had the vehicle on a hoist…

Thursday, April 18, 5-9 p.m.Drekker Brewing Company, 1666 1st Ave N, FargoThe folks at Drekker have partnered with a handful of area artists and the Lend A Hand Up program. A program providing help and hope to families facing…

In 2016, the Rand Corportation’s National Defense Research Institute published a year-long study looking at potential consequences for transgender members to serve within the U.S Military. This study looked at seven different…

The Nordic ModelDr. Thea Hunter, a graduate of Columbia University and an adjunct professor of history at a number of elite colleges and universities, recently died at age 63 of extreme capitalism—and asthma—because of lack of…

Cocktail Showdown

​Yo ho ho!

by Sabrina Hornung

Well shiver me timbers. After weeks of sampling some of the finest drinks in F-M from more bars than we could shake a belaying pin at, the results of High Plains Reader’s 6th Annual Cocktail Showdown are in! For nine weeks,…

After three years Jon Beyer aka “Jonny B” has become the face and the beard behind Jonny B’s Brickhouse in Jamestown North Dakota. Besides the largest selection of craft beers between here and Bismarck, wood-fired pizzas and…

By Gary Usseryusseryg@gmail.comFYB. Three letters, three words, well known by the guys who make up Cascades, and anyone who is a fan of the five-man band. When asked what genre best describes their sound, I was bombarded with at…

Harmony Korine keeps a tight grip on his title as one of the most critic/critique-proof filmmakers of recent times with “The Beach Bum,” a sultry companion piece to 2012’s memorable “Spring Breakers.” Not without its own…

Arts

​Hold your head high

by Sabrina Hornung

“I started to look around at state arts council positions because I felt that even though I had never done that, I felt like it would be a really good blend of skills, so I started to look around in 2016. A few jobs came up but I…

Countless examples can be found throughout the history of great art that was only recognized as such after the life of the artist that created it. Such is true of Georges Bizet’s opera "Carmen."  While its reception during his…

Stand-up comedy is traditionally a one-way exchange. Outside of the odd question addressed to a random audience member, the limit of the spectators’ contribution to the conversation is their laughter at the comedy stylings being…

By Gabrielle Herschgabbyhersch@gmail.comThink & Drink is coming to Fargo! Organized by Humanities North Dakota, Think & Drink is a happy hour series that hosts a facilitated public conversation about big issues and ideas. Lead by a…

I’m a big man, I’m tall and powerful, but this also causes some issues in the body department. I suffer from acute scoliosis in my lower back, and pain radiates from this area on a daily basis. I have only ever had one massage…

by Devin Joubertdevinlillianjoubert@gmail.comIt’s that beautiful time of the year that’s filled with seasonal decorations, sparkly lights, warm family gatherings, and delicious feasts. I love everything about this time of the…

It seems like the threats to North Dakota’s Badlands never cease. Let’s go back and revisit Wylie Bice. He’s the rogue, rich, rancher up in Dunn County, on the eastern edge of the Badlands, who’s built himself a private…