A small-time entrepreneur and a drug-addicted plane-crash survivor fight over ownership rights to the latter man’s amputated foot in “Finders Keepers,” a real-life dark comedy and an under-the-radar surprise.
Chronicling the above-cited 2007 battle, directors Clay Tweel and Bryan Carberry have made a southern-fried quirk ride that will likely emerge as the year’s weirdest documentar and a serious-minded and multifaceted portrait of ridiculously behaving but deeply human subjects.
Shannon Whisnant, a fame-seeking bargain-goods dealer who boasts that he “could sell snow to Eskimos,” leads off the bizarreness when he purchases a storage unit at a North Carolina auction and finds a meat smoker with a man’s preserved lower left leg inside. The media goes nuts with the story, and Whisnant turns his grisly find into a tourist attraction. He charges $3 to view the limb and promotes himself as the “Foot Man.”
The leg and foot belong to John Wood, a nonachiever whose financially successful father died when a small plane Wood was copiloting crashed. Wood lost his lower left leg in the accident and kept the limb in hopes of using it in a memorial to his father. Homeless and battling addiction, he failed to pay the rent on the storage unit where he’d placed the leg. It landed in Whisnant’s unscrupulous hands.
Whisnant insists that the leg belongs to him instead of Wood, the “birth owner.” (No screenwriter could concoct this stuff.) Wood, of course, disagrees. The two argue their case on junk-TV shows and become international jokes. Their personal relationships suffer.
The craziness keeps coming, and the men undergo a reversal of fate. The long-derailed Wood begins rediscovering his bearings. The bigheaded Whisnant loses his way.
Using interviews, footage and occasional animation, Tweel and Carberry break no ground in filmmaking. At times, their presentation of the greedy, ruthless, redneck Whisnant feels overloaded with laughability potential. Even shameless hucksters are three-dimensional beings.
But all totaled, the documentary about inequality, entitlement, male success, and the struggle to feel significant in America is entertaining and insightful.
As they take us into the pasts, current lives and demon-plagued heads of their subjects, the filmmakers present Wood, and Whisnant, with interesting and unexpected shades. A passage in which the poverty-bred Whisnant talks about not being one of those kids who had their birthday party at the privileged Wood’s house is especially illuminating. “I guess I’m a nobody,” he says.
Observations by members of both men’s dysfunctional families enrich the picture.
Getting back to the eccentric fun of it all, which will be the primary draw for many, let’s just say that a “Star Trek”-loving veterinarian who knows a few things about embalming is a particular kick.
REVIEW: Finders Keepers
Starring John Wood, Shannon Whisnant
Directed by Bryan Carberry, Clay Tweel
Not rated Running time 1 hour, 24 minutes