Wesley Emblidge ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Executive Editor
Shannon Whisnant assumed he was just getting a good deal on some barbecue equipment when he bought an old smoker grill at an auction in his hometown of Maiden, North Carolina. What he didn’t anticipate was the bonus prize inside; the amputated foot of local crack addict John Wood. Anyone else would’ve given the foot up easily, but in those rotting remains Whisnant smelled an opportunity, and thus began what must have been the strangest custody battle of 2007.
In the deftly titled documentary Finders Keepers, directors Clay Tweel and Bryan Carberry profile both men getting their sides of the story, and turn what sounds at first like a bizarre tale about a couple of crazy rednecks into a shockingly moving story. Wood lost the leg in a plane crash, but that same crash also took his father, a death that threw his life and the life of his whole family into turmoil.
The fight for his leg became a final step to closure for Wood, while for Whisnant the leg represented his opportunity for something completely different: fame and fortune. Whisnant got his discovery of the leg all over the media, and began selling tickets for people to come and see it. He milks the leg for well more than what it’s worth, going on the radio, flying to Europe to be on a German talk show, and eventually settling on TV court with Wood. But Whisnant is somewhat of a tragic figure as well; his overwhelming desire for fame is a self-destructive tendency that brings him and his family almost as much pain as Wood.
At a lean 82 minutes the film does still feel padded; it’s one of the many documentaries that feels it has to meet the standard expectations for feature length films but doesn’t really have the material to make it there. When it gets past the fluff, Finders Keepers has the kind of surprising empathy you find in the early films of Errol Morris (Gates of Heaven certainly comes to mind), and that’s close to the highest compliment you can give to relatively new documentary filmmakers.
Overall Grade: B
Finders Keepers opened this Friday, September 25th at the Kendall Square Cinema and hits VOD on October 2nd.