Riley Keough and Gina Gammell’s gritty slice-of-life drama War Pony takes viewers to a Lakota reservation, where the stories of two troubled boys interlink. One plot line follows 23-year-old Bill (Jojo Bapteise Whiting), the other a 12-year-old-boy named Matho (Ladainian Crazy Thunder). Bill is a down-on-his-luck hustler who’ll do everything he can to earn money, whether that be breeding poodles as a get-rich-quick scheme, getting a job on a turkey farm or resorting to crime, He is obsessed with obtaining success. Meanwhile, Matho wants to grow up too fast and follow in the footsteps of his abusive, criminal father. The drama plays out at a slow and steady pace, designed to get viewers invested in both characters’ plights. However, the filmmakers don’t make full use of their best ideas, which renders War Pony a gripping, yet somewhat underwhelming affair.
The collaborators don’t hold much back when it comes to weaving their narratives. Themes of child neglect and abuse are confronted head-on, but never overstepping the line where they become excessive or intrusive. The creators maintain a grounded sense of authenticity for much of their script, which bestows a profound sense of realism to the drama, as well as making each protagonist empathetic, despite some dubious actions from both parties.
Due to its slow-burn pacing, it takes some time before anything majorly significant occurs. Both narrative threads largely exist in their own bubbles, given just enough time required to let viewers get a glimpse into the characters’ lives and current predicaments. And with both leads giving charismatic performances, it doesn’t take long for audiences to root for them to succeed.
The film is at its best, though, whenever it taps into the surreal and the mystical. Visions of animals and Lakota rituals add an extra layer of intrigue and something else for viewers to dig into. However, these moments are used far too sparely for them to leave any real impact on the feature.
War Pony does not have a UK release date yet.
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