War Pony

War Pony ★★★★☆ – Glasgow Film Festival surprise screening

4 mins read

Time stops when Bill is face-to-face with a bison. A symbol of abundance and manifestation in the Oglala Lakota tribe. It’s not something you see on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

War Pony invites us into the lives of two young men growing up on a Native American reservation in South Dakota, hoping to survive in a system designed to disadvantage them. Matho (LaDainian Crazy Thunder) is a pre-teen who contends with a violent father, homelessness, and drug abuse. Bill (Jojo Bapteise Whiting) is a struggling father, barely an adult, trying to get his life together for his kids.

Their stories intersect as we witness a community traumatised by generations of institutional neglect. The title signifies the daily battle the characters face to survive.

Directed by two first-time female directors, War Pony was an apt choice for the International Woman’s day surprise screening at Glasgow Film Festival. Although it centres on the stories of men, women loom large and act as ploys to the male protagonists, and their saviours.

Although subject to a meandering plot, this gives way to an emotionally charged conclusion. War Pony is a heartfelt dedication to a community often forced to take the higher ground despite centuries of land theft.

War Pony
Image credit: Felix Cupa

“LaDainian Crazy Thunder and Jojo Bapteise Whiting enter War Pony as complete strangers but will leave you like old friends.”

Producing partners Riley Keough and Gina Gammell offer a measured directing debut, preferring to stand aside and let the story speak for itself. Writers Franklin Sioux Bob and Bill Reddy both grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, providing an authenticity that can’t be found in research alone.

They have a clear understanding that life, is full of humour, no matter the circumstances. They manage to balance light moments with challenging material every time without a hint of insensitivity.

Cinematographer David Gallego makes sure that this genuine charm is at the forefront. He favours natural lighting and Steadicams, creating a window-like picture of the lives of the Lakota tribe.

He uses muted pinks and blues, defiantly setting War Pony apart from the endless desert that the great plains are usually painted as. Never glamourised but never exploitative of its subjects, Gallego understands that beauty can be found even in the darkest places, but it shouldn’t have to be.

Nature increasingly invades the urban environment, warning the protagonists of ill-fated paths. Birds flying over a cavalcade demonstrates how proud traditions and modern-day inventions can bleed together for a new way of life.

First-time actors LaDainian Crazy Thunder and Jojo Bapteise Whiting prove that you can’t fake honest performances. They enter the film as complete strangers but will leave you like old friends.

War Pony is a delicate presentation of a community on the edge. It is quiet in its construction yet its advocation for one community is loud.

War Pony is out in the UK June 9 2023. For more information on Glasgow Film Festival’s full programme visit their website.

Featured Image Credit: Felix Cupa

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Film and Tv Editor at Brig Newspaper. Currently studying Journalism and English at the University of Stirling

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