Winter in the Blood is a film unlike any I have seen in a long time. It is a bit of strange chimeric hybrid of different genres, and somehow, despite a mishmash of tone it manages to be quite an effective movie. On the one hand, it's a period tale of self-discovery and a subtle meditation on the plight of the Native Americans, and on the other it's a magical realism hero journey as if directed by David Lynch.
Chaske Spencer stars as Virgil First Raise, a young man living on an Indian reservation in Montana in the late early 60's (the date is a bit hazy.) Virgil is aimless and a drunk, haunted by the death of his father years before. He wakes in a ditch to discover his wife Agnes (Julia Jones) left him and stole his rifle. He stumbles off toward town to find her and get his rifle back, and begins a surrealistic journey where he meets the mysterious Airplane Man (David Morse) who wants him help getting into Canada, and a white cocktail waitress (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson) with whom he has a brief affair. Neither Airplane Man or the waitress appear to be real, at least not in the way Virgil appears to interact with them, nor are the two sinister government agents that appear to be tracking Airplane Man. Much that happens may be a hallucination or part of some kind of vision quest as Virgil comes to terms with his past, which includes tracking down the ancient warrior Yellow Calf (Saginaw Grant) who may have a past connection to Virgil's family.
The film takes its time, making use of flashbacks to illuminate Virgil's story as it relates to his father and brother Mose (Yancey Hawley). The screenplay peels back the layers of Virgil's life delicately and deliberately to create an absolutely fascinating, complicated and deeply flawed character. There are times that Virgil comes across as despicable but he is always real and sympathetic. Chaske Spencer is quite a good actor, proving that no one is ever at their best in the Twilight Saga. Virgil narrates the story in a reflective, existential manner that would fit right at home in a Terrence Malick film. The film veers into the weird whenever David Morse is on screen, and though the tonal shift is rather jarring and there's no real resolution to this subplot, it's still very entertaining. Morse gets the Dennis Hopper award for bringing the crazy.
Strip the film down to its most vital, bare bones elements, and it's the story of a Native American man trying to find his cultural identity in a country that has tried to steal and erase that identity from an entire people. The movie never addresses this in an obvious way, but it permeates the entire story. Winter in the Blood is an unusual, beautiful film, and one worth seeing.