Tessa Thompson, Lily James, James Badge Dale, Lance Reddick, Luke Kirby
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth
The suspenseful quest for survival provides the stimulus for the whole transfixing and eye-opening running time.
Providing a close-up look at the effects of poverty and local economic depression on a pair of young women and their immediate surroundings, Nia DaCosta’s feature debut [she’s next rebooting Candyman] is a tense portrayal of a daily struggle to make ends meet. As depressing as that may sound – and the film certainly does not back away from any of the gruelling realities the characters find themselves in – the film remains gripping throughout. The suspenseful quest for survival provides the stimulus for the whole transfixing and eye-opening running time.
Ollie and Deb are two sisters recently bereft of their mother. Living in the North Dakota area with a backdrop of industrial fracking and displaced homes and communities, the scene is not a happy one.
Bringing to the screen a picture of a poor America that a new generation of cinema is starting to record; recent movies such as The Florida Project, Lean on Pete and Donnybrook all centred on deprived existence in the USA, the movie is also a feminist film centred squarely on the two women. Men are subsidiary to the plot, which is always seen from a female perspective, usually Ollie’s.
Ollie (Tessa Thompson, Creed, Annihilation, Avengers: Endgame, Westworld) is trying to put her life back together after being sentenced for drug-dealing. She used to run painkillers such as OxyContin from over the Canadian border and traded them to workers at the industrial plant. Currently in the last few weeks of her parole, she has gone from dealing drugs to trading coffees and snacks. But the demand for drugs in the local community is an ever-present factor.
With a working day made intolerable by the physical demands and working injuries that take place on a fracking site, workers literally beg her for something to make a long day’s shift bearable. These are people without health care provision, who literally can’t afford to miss a shift or go to the hospital. Buying drugs is both cheaper and easier.
But Ollie has sworn that she is not going to deal again. She’s applying for jobs, has a good relationship with her parole officer (Lance Reddick), and looks to be beginning to see the woods from the trees.
Her sister Deb (Lilly James, Baby Driver, Darkest Hour) has other problems. A single mother facing the prospect of homelessness, she works as a diner waitress. The two sisters love each other deeply, and despite Deb’s troubles Ollie knows she has to finish her parole and get out. She even has a job offer in Spokane to look forward to.
Deb then finds herself pregnant. Abortion or giving birth require a stack of money that the sisters simply don’t have, and so the thriller aspect of the film is introduced. The pair need to cross the border into Canada so they can buy a medical card for Deb from Ollie’s criminal contacts in order to obtain a legal and properly administered abortion.
Whether or not they make it is always in doubt. What isn’t though, is the bond they have for each other. Both leads exhibit the anxiety and stress of their troubled lives excellently, with a subtlety and depth of feeling that is brought out in the subtlest of ways. Ollie and Deb’s shared looks of concern, a slight crack in Deb’s voice and the fixed gaze of determination from Ollie all powerfully propel the forward momentum.
When the script doesn’t quite match the acting, it occasionally jars, with statements expressly telling the audience what each character is feeling sounding too much like a therapy session and less like two siblings having an uneasy discussion.
But this is a minor quibble, and certainly doesn’t detract from an impressive debut from DaCosta, a filmmaker many expect to go on to have a long and bright career.