The opening shots of Alex and Andrew Smith’s “Winter in the Blood” are a pretty credible impression of a Clint Eastwood western.
Cinematographer Paula Huidobro’s wide-angle, handsome images of a stark and grassy ranch stretch as far as the eye can see. You can feel winter’s bite surrounding a sturdy farmhouse, compressing nature’s energy yet somehow ennobling the movements of a cowboy and his horse, half-draped in shadow.
Then the ugly truth kicks in. All that cinematic Montana lore is just a dream in the hung-over brain of Virgil First Raise (Chaske Spencer), who awakens and scrapes himself up from a ditch.
The young Native American antihero at the center of “Winter’s” feverish tale, based on a seminal 1974 novel by the late James Welch (at one time a University of Washington visiting professor), is about to embark on another day of booze, violence and random visions.
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The line between reality and hallucination is blurred both for Virgil and the audience in this audacious, funny and often tender movie.
Spencer, best known from the “Twilight” series, delivers a brutally honest performance as the dissolute Virgil, a drunk whose wife (Julia Jones) has run off with his keepsake rifle while he stumbles through his days at home and in the seedier side of a small Montana town.
The Smith brothers (”The Slaughter Rule”) don’t distinguish between the real and surreal or past and present. Virgil, carrying lingering grief over family deaths as well as the pain of an identity crisis, spins through memories, fantasies and bizarre adventures (some featuring a crazy con man, played by David Morse, who could have been invented by Hunter S. Thompson).
A fine cast including Gary Farmer, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, Saginaw Grant and Richard Ray Whitman are all part of Virgil’s jumbled vision quest. “Winter in the Blood” is a journey to knowledge through the back alleys of a seamless nightmare.
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org