Winter People is a film that really reminds you of just what an interesting career Kurt Russell has had. He may have been launched on to the world from the House Of Mouse and in the 1980s he may have won many fans thanks to his work with John Carpenter, but he wasn't a major draw at the box office and he, deliberately or not, seemed to choose projects based more on how interesting they were than how much money they would rake in. Winter People is an interesting film and, especially considering that I'd never heard of it before this year, it's also a very good one.
It's 1930 and Russell plays the upstanding Wayland Jackson, a young widower who moves with his daughter (and her pet pig) to a North Carolina mountain town. The move doesn't go all too smoothly and, with a car stuck in a river and left with only a few things he is able to carry, Wayland and his daughter end up meeting a young woman named Collie Wright (played by Kelly McGillis) who has a young baby, but no husband at home. Wayland and Collie get along very well, thank you kindly, and it's not long until she is helping him settle into his new life by promoting his skills as a clockmaker to her family and encouraging them to accept this new man in her life. To be accepted means more than just a few social gatherings, however, and Wayland is soon taken along on a bear hunt. Meanwhile, Collie is still being pestered by the mean father of her child (Jeffrey Meek) and things might get ugly.
Based on a book by John Ehle, Winter People would seem to be typical of his work (from the little I've read about his bibliography, having not been familiar with his work before now). Carol Sobieski easily retains the essence of the story in her screenplay and director Ted Kotcheff shoots it all competently enough. It all seems just . . . . . . . fine. Yet, by the time the end credits rolled I realised that I'd enjoyed every unsensational minute of it.
While a lot of the credit can go to Ehle, Sobieski and Kotcheff, the other big plus point for the movie is the strong cast. Russell and McGillis are both wonderful in their main roles, but great support comes from a number of people that aren't so well known. And Lloyd Bridges, who is very good here. Young Amelia Burnette is very good as Wayland's daughter Paula, Jeffrey Meek is intimidating and easy to dislike as Cole Campbell while Mitch Ryan is just as good as his fierce father. Then we have Don Michael Paul and Lanny Flaherty, both perfect as Collie's two dissimilar brothers.
It's not a well-known movie (I certainly hadn't heard it mentioned before and had never heard of it myself, anyway) and it's not all that easy to get a hold of, but if you're a fan of this kind of film or of Russell or McGillis then I encourage you to at least give it a one-time viewing if the chance ever arises.