“Winter in the Blood” is finally showing in Hi-Line theaters after gracing cinemas in Missoula, Minneapolis and London, as well as various film festivals.
The film follows Virgil First Raise, played by Chaske Spencer, and his inner turmoil as he drowns in a dream-world of liquor caught in between two worlds, neither of which he feels he belongs in.
First Raise struggles with finding a cultural identity after he is told he is a “half-breed,” and begins experiencing disconnect at both his family’s ranch and the towns he frequents when he is a child. The child, played by Rocky Boy native Alex Escarega, grows into a young man whose anguish has snowballed with time.
Emphasis on this battle of Virgil’s is made early on in the film and, to those who have not read the James Welch novel on which the film is based, the film seems in danger of becoming a Lifetime Channel-esque civil rights movie with a “love thy neighbor” moral prepackaged for the ending.
But, as the films travels with Virgil through his rabbit hole, any fear of cheap lessons subsides as the audience gets a rare chance to see a depth of character refreshing after so many blockbuster films with two-dimensional personalities and an explosion or two on a loop track. The morals in this story are hard-earned and real.
The destination of Virgil’s path, whether it be salvation or damnation, balances precariously on a fence throughout the movie and keeps the audience holding its breath. As Virgil delves deeper into the hard life practiced by his father — who left his family frequently on weeks-long drinking trysts — he reaches a breaking point in which he must make a choice to rise from his early grave or sleep in the bed he has made is inevitable.
Accompanying Virgil’s story is, of course, the backdrop of Hi-Line scenery. The Bear Paw Mountains and Fort Belknap Indian Reservation are easily recognized and supply stunning visuals to the film. The scenes shot in downtown Havre and Chinook show many historical features of the towns, including the interiors of bars, storefronts and alleys. Havre is taken back in time for the film with scant changes to signs and decor to the already antiquated look of the town.
“Winter in the Blood” is a wonderful film for those looking for a true-life story of suffering and quests for meaning. The film is kept at a slow but steady gait and may be dull to those looking for the average adrenaline action movie or campy romantic comedy.
But, for those looking for real stories about real people, “Winter in the Blood” is a more than satisfying fit.