Little Woods is a new drama film directed by Nia DeCosta and starring Tessa Thompson and Lily James. The movie tells the story of an ex-con nearing the end of her parole for smuggling Canadian drugs across the border that is forced back into the drug trade to help her sister out of a bind. It debuted at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival and played at the 2019 Gasparilla International Film Festival.
The story of this film is definitely very interesting. It is a tale of what people are driven to do by desperation and the physical and emotional consequences that this type of action can have. However, this movie tells that story in a way that also has a lot to say about the society in which we live. The film provides commentary on the flaws of the healthcare system, both the American market and the Canadian socialized system. It is unlikely that many viewers will be familiar with these parts of the story. Additionally, the movie discusses some of the flaws of the American prison system, although these themes are less prevalent.
In terms of character development, the film is somewhat uneven. The protagonist is definitely very compelling and sympathetic, but her sister is not. The sister really doesn’t have enough of a backstory to give her an inherently sympathetic quality, and the conflict she faces is almost purely external in nature. Had she been given more internal conflict, she would have been more sympathetic, and her manipulation of the protagonist would have been more understandable.
The pacing of the movie is also relatively weak. The main story of the film doesn’t really kick in until the second act, and even then, it isn’t as exciting as it could or should be. There are only a few bursts of suspense and intensity, and although they are relatively effective, they aren’t particularly impactful to the story as a whole. A majority of the movie meanders along, focused primarily on introducing the characters and themes. The issue is that it ultimately starts to feel overlong once we are familiar with the characters and before the main plot begins.
That being said, the film is very successful on an emotional level because the protagonist is quite well-written. It is easy to sympathize with and even pity the character’s experiences and struggles. You feel bad for her even if you don’t necessarily believe the motivation she has to do what she is doing. A large part of why the movie works is that it does feel so resonant.
The acting in the film is mostly good. James is definitely the weak link in the movie, delivering a performance that is uncharacteristically bland for her. She doesn’t infuse enough emotion into the character, and she is entirely unbelievable. Her accent drops in and out frequently. Had her performance been better, the film would have been more compelling as a whole. Thompson gives a very good performance, though. She has a great range and the movie allows her to show tons of emotion. James Badge Dale is great in his supporting role too. He is quickly proving himself to be one of the best character actors working today.
The film also struggled on a technical level. The cinematography was definitely very good, cementing the movie as a neo-Western, but it doesn’t go far beyond giving the film nice visuals. The editing of the movie is not particularly good. Many of the shots were cut far too early. Some scenes that could have been among the most effective of the film were ruined by poor editing. The use of music was also rather odd, as it didn’t really fit well with the tone of the movie or the style which it was aiming to replicate.
Overall, Little Woods was somewhat disappointing. Although Tessa Thompson’s performance makes the film worth watching, it isn’t nearly as interesting as it could have been.
Little Woods played at the 2019 Gasparilla International Film Festival. It opens in theaters on April 19.