The story for Winter in the Blood is taken from James Welch’s novel of the same name which won him some acclaim when it was published in the mid-70s. It is both an intense, personal journey of a man trying to find a place in the world that has given him nothing but pain, and a sweeping microcosm of the modern struggle Native Americans face to find a place in a world taken from them inch by inch and mile by mile. But what sounds like a powerful film on paper falls apart in execution from page to screen.
I hesitate to use the word “adapted” because the Smith Brothers and their co-writer Ken White have not really adapted this into another art form as much as they have tried to film it as a moving book. As a film, it plays like a series of sketches taken from the novel. Voice over and music by the Heartless Bastards are attempted as storyteller’s glue, but it doesn’t adhere. Each scene feels so artlessly slapped together in random order that it’s difficult to engage head on — and if any story needs to be engaged head on, it’s certainly the story of America’s original sin. There are worthwhile scenes, and the mood is occasionally affecting, but it doesn’t come together as singular piece overall and that’s too much to overlook.