Nia DaCosta’s Little Woods is set in a North Dakota fracking center where Tessa Thompson’s Ollie is on the verge of completing her probation after detained for trafficking in Oxycodone. The intention here isn’t really a scathing attack on what are considered hot topics, especially opioid addiction. They’re used to focus on what Ollie needs to do as she once again turns against the law.
Impoverished struggles are evident even before Ollie has to deal with her home’s foreclosure after her mother’s passing and the pregnancy of her alienated sister, Deb (Lily James of Mamma Mia!, Here We Go Again, Cinderella, Darkest Hour). A coffee and sandwich vendor is she out of her truck before Deb’s beseeching reveals where she is in terms of a personal life.
A gritty, deliberate, as well as muted realism not unlike another absorbing modest feature like Frozen River unfolds with unforced veracity into the aftermath with a quandary resembling but not really perceived to be mischief; going against the promise of many sure-fire heist flicks like The Score or The Italian Job.
The only actual bond for the hesitant Ollie is Deb as being family is rationalized for the crucial aim of averting dire straits almost like business associates. DaCosta wisely understates the dramatic side of the narrative in zoning in the ‘unnoticed’ especially in such a rural environment.
While actors like Luke Kirby and James Badge Dale pop in for adequate support it’s the headliners who are nicely rigged into this hardship chronicle without illuminating lensing or contemptible police officers. Conflict in these circumstances is made palpably potent by the ingenuity on display, accentuated by how a very capable Thompson (Creed II, Annihilation) and James eschew empathy in their creditable etchings. Thus, Little Woods navigates adroitly through familiarity to offer nuance and resonance without big thrills.