Pitched somewhere between Chloé Zhao’s carefully calibrated doc hybrid The Rider and a Richard Linklater slacker ride-along, this naturalistic Caméra d’Or-winner from Cannes is about two young Native Americans wheeling and dealing against a backdrop of socioeconomic deprivation.
Bill (Jojo Bapteise Whiting) is a twentysomething hawking stolen PlayStations and siphoning petrol from unsuspecting strangers’ vehicles. He is the father of two children with different mothers, one of whom is in jail on an unspecified bail violation, while the other dodges his calls. When Bill finds a lost poodle in his yard and returns it to its owner, he hits on his latest get-rich-quick scheme: if he can scrape together $1,000, he can keep the dog, breed it and then sell the resulting puppies for profit.
LaDainian Crazy Thunder plays 12-year-old Matho, a kid who plunders from his father’s stash of methamphetamine before cutting it with baking soda and selling it to addicts. He’s a kid with affected swagger and a crush on a girl from maths class who is old beyond his years.
War Pony is directed by Riley Keough and Gina Gammell; they wrote the film with Franklin Sioux Bob and Bill Redd of the Oglala Lakota Nation, who grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. David Gallego’s camera hustles and bustles alongside the dual protagonists as they duck and dive. Every so often a bison wanders into the frame, a reminder of all the community has lost and of a heritage eroded by poverty and genocide.
Working with Gammell, Keough, a granddaughter of Elvis Presley and the compelling star of The House that Jack Built and Daisy Jones & the Six, successfully transitions to the other side of the camera with this respectful take on a community under pressure.