War Pony review: an intimate portrayal of a scarcely told story

War Pony
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Gina Gammell and Riley Keough have teamed up to tell a little-told story with War Pony – here’s our review.

The Pine Ridge Native American reservation in South Dakota is a world where, at least for War Pony’s two male leads, the conflicts between both life and death, freedom and incarceration hover ever-present on the periphery of day-to-day life.These two male characters – at opposite ends of adolescence – scarcely met for the film’s near-two-hour runtime, but their lives are nevertheless strongly interconnected, reinforcing the narrative’s sense of inevitability and generational trauma endured by those who live on there.

A title or dedication at the start of a film serves to set the tone for proceedings, and that’s true with this collaborative project between Gina Gammell and Riley Keough – her directorial debut. War Pony is ‘dedicated to the loved ones who walked on to the spirit world during the making of this film and to the relatives incarcerated, from which these stories became.’

We meet Bill (Jojo Bapteise Whiting) first. He’s in his late teens, 20 at a push, a father of two trying to breeze through life, making money any way he can as he balances his two baby mamas. His latest scheme is buying a poodle, rather adorably given the name Beast, with plans to sell her puppies for a lot of money.

In the meantime, he’s offered easy money in the form of being a private taxi driver for a rich entrepreneur. Bill has enough smarts to know the reason why he’s driving young women to and from his reservation, and only time will tell how long he can remain complicit in the exploitation taking place.

Matho (LaDainian Crazy Thunder) is on the cusp of his teens, dealing with an aggressive and abusive father at home and a distracting crush at school. Meth has long infiltrated the reservation, and it implodes Matho’s life, forcing an already older than his years preteen into making choices which might forever derail his future.

The way these two storylines intertwine, more thematically than literally, makes for poignant and heart breaking watching. Both young men, boys in age though not reality, do not have the opportunity to live. Each day that passes is a balance of survival and countless decision making – a necessity to ensure they live to see the next one.

The film’s unique tone replicates this. There’s a slowness as we follow the minutiae almost to the point of mundanity until life delivers its sharp and sudden blows.

Yet in amongst this there’s still hope that maybe the next move might be the right one that changes things. This is an intimate depiction of rarely told, scarcely listened to, stories.

War Pony is in cinemas on 9th June.

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