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Winter in the Blood (2013)

7.3
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Ratings: 7.3/10 from 55 users   Metascore: 49/100
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Virgil First Raise wakes with a shiner and a hangover in a roadside ditch on the stark but beautiful plains of Montana. As he rises to face the day he sees a vision of his father lying dead... See full summary »

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Cast

Credited cast:
...
Virgil First Raise
...
Airplane Man
...
Lame Bull
...
Agnes
...
Malvina
...
Marlene
Richard Ray Whitman ...
John First Raise
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
...
Bad Suit
...
Theresa First Raise
Alex Escarcega ...
Young Virgil (as Alex Escaravega)
Joseph Grady ...
Ferdinand
...
Yellow Calf
Yancey Hawley ...
Mose
...
Belva Horn
...
Raymond Long Knife
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Storyline

Virgil First Raise wakes with a shiner and a hangover in a roadside ditch on the stark but beautiful plains of Montana. As he rises to face the day he sees a vision of his father lying dead at his feet. Impossible-- his father froze to death in a snowdrift years earlier. Virgil returns home to find that his wife, Agnes, has left him. Worse, she's taken his electric razor and his beloved rifle. Virgil sets out to find her-- beginning a hi-line odyssey of inebriated encounters, sexual skirmishes, and improbable cloak-and-dagger intrigues with the mysterious 'Airplane Man'. Virgil's quest also brings him face-to-face with childhood memories and visions of his beloved, lost brother Mose-- some glorious, some tragic. Only when Virgil seeks the counsel of an old, blind man named Yellow Calf, does he grasp the truth of his origins and begin to thaw the ice in his veins. Written by Anonymous

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20 August 2014 (USA)  »

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Virgil First Raise: Sometimes you have to lean into the wind to stand straight.
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User Reviews

 
An unflinching look at life in a place you've never been
6 August 2013 | by (MT, U.S.) – See all my reviews

I recently saw this film at a local premiere, and the feeling one has when coming out of the theater was, "Wow. That Chaske Spencer can act." Spencer - renown known for his role as wolf pack leader Sam Uley in the Twilight saga - carries a heavy burden as WITB's protagonist Virgil First Raise fearlessly all throughout this film from the first scene to the last. I'd be surprised if he's not nominated for some kind of indie film awards, as I'm sure the film itself will be.

To the heart of the matter is that the film is based on James Welch's classic book of the same name. Welch, a Blackfeet Indian author, had made the book as a travelogue of sorts of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation and surrounding Montana Hi-Line area next to the Canadian border. This area is detrimental to the storytelling as the rolling prairies bordered by stout mountains seemingly creates a natural barrier of indifference among the characters to each other. With a dearth of people in the area to begin with, finding someone close to relate to and trust is a luxury, and Virgil First Raise loses the father and his only best friend brother that would help him deal with life's curve balls easier and at least genuinely enjoy some of it.

So in the first scene, we find Virgil lying in a ditch waking up rough after a heavy night of drinking. He's down and feeling out, plus he's told his heirloom rifle is missing - stolen by his wife who left him - and so he sets off to find it. Along the way he comes across many interesting characters such as the highly entertaining 'Airplane Man' (David Morse), and we're introduced to his step-father Lame Bull (Gary Farmer). For those familiar with recent Native American actors in cinema, let's just say Farmer as usual is his usual humorous and brilliant self.

Those not familiar with reservation life or rural areas like this might be confused how to react to this film. It's not politically correct at all as it doesn't dare shy away from alcohol abuse. In one telling scene, an obnoxiously drunk Lame Bull leans back in his chair laughing loudly, and Virgil 'helps' lift his chair up just enough to make him fall on his back. Funny as Farmer handles it, Virgil uses the incident as a ploy to pour himself an extra cup of Lame Bull's bottle and proceed to guzzle it. It's the painful look in Virgil's eyes that's most telling. He wanted the drink, but he's tired of it. He wants another way.

If one has read the novel, you'll be able to follow the plot line as it stays very faithful to the source material. But for those not familiar with it, parts like the meaning of the eccentric Canadian smuggler David Morse as the Airplane Man will baffle them, leaving their minds to dwell upon his importance to the whole narrative. (Is it a mystery? What is his true meaning? Etc.) But even in the novel his meaning was always up for grabs, so it's best to just leave it that he came across the border from the similarly vast Canadian wild lands, and thus acted as such.

The movie takes place in the 60's, but it could have been told this summer such is the slow pace of the land that creates a feeling that the people haven't caught quite up with the times. That's not an insult, it's just worth nothing all the places were filmed at the original real locations that the book wrote about, and they didn't have to do much to make it look like it did 40 plus years ago aside from change out the automobiles in scenes. It's vast prairies on a hot day. It's dark bars. It's cold and windy winter days. It's a part of Montana that's overlooked in the tourist brochures. This was the land where Indians roamed and hunted the once abundant herds of bison, and with them gone many struggle to find their place in this modern world and so that leaves them with a sense of despair. (It's worth noting in real life, the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation of the same area has some of the highest rates of suicide in the U.S.)

Out of boredom locals like Virgil turn to drink after working hard all day in the field, get drunk, and do it all over again in hopes of breaking the monotony. Virgil and grew up wanting to be the cowboy. Cowboys always won. They beat the bad guy Indians. As he grows up without his dad and best friend that was his older brother - who are shown in various flashbacks - he doesn't know where he belongs and is tired of living with the death surrounding him, and he hopes to find life soon before it's too late. This Winter In the Blood film carries us through that journey with a meticulous and heartfelt eye.

I strongly recommend you buy a ticket when it comes out near you or buy the DVD if you're a true fan of cinema as an art form, but 'caveat emptor' - or "let the buyer beware" - you'll experience a blunt portrayal of life depicted through the eyes of a man trying to find meaning in a place you've never been.


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