Finders Keepers

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Recovering addict and amputee John Wood finds himself in a stranger-than-fiction battle to reclaim his mummified leg from Southern entrepreneur Shannon Whisnant, who found it in a grill he bought at an auction and believes it to therefore be his rightful property.
"The film is a hodge-podge of archive clips and interview material but it just about gels and a host of smaller scale family stories round it out nicely."

In September 2007, Shannon Whisnant bought a smoker grill from an auction. The contents of a storage locker were being sold off after their owner had failed to pay his fees, and he hoped to pick up a bargain. What he found inside the smoker was more than even he had bargained for: a human leg.

Bryan Carberry and Clay Tweel's documentary tracks one of those stories you might come across as the last item on the news or the first item in the National Enquirer. A viral weekend wonder is probably all it would ever have amounted to were it not for Shannon's reaction to the find. He called the police. He called the auctioneer to have them look for other body parts in other items (even though the leg was embalmed). But after it had emerged that the leg belonged to an amputee, John Wood, who desperately wanted it back so he could one day be buried complete, Shannon decided to sue. He bought it, he paid for it, he said, and so he ought to be able to put it on display and make it into a tourist attraction that would bring him the money and fame he always dreamed of.

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The first half of this film, which focuses on the media response to the story, is a little slow and spends too much time presenting us with the same facts in slightly different ways, which is a shame, because those facts are not uninteresting in themselves. Around the halfway mark, however, it picks up the pace. We learn that the plane crash in which John lost his leg - and his father - plunged him into depression which in turn led to alcoholism, making sudden fame and offers of money just about the worst thing that could happen to him. Shannon, meanwhile, escalates his unwittingly outrageous behaviour as he does everything in his power to drag the story out and build himself a career in reality TV. Both men have family members who worry for them and are feeling the pressure, but hope emerges unexpectedly. Could there be a happy ending to this sordid tale?

Shannon and John are both a product of what outsiders might call redneck culture - there's a cute moment when John accuses Shannon of wanting "to be the next Billy Bob Thornton" - and Shannon has actually appeared on the Jerry Springer Show. Is this, then, just car crash viewing, inviting the audience to mock? There might be an element of that but both men acquit themselves well in places. John's story is genuinely touching and his efforts to take control of his life, though inevitably fragile, are commendable. Shannon, meanwhile, has genuine talent when it comes to fast-talking and has a degree of pluck that makes him surprisingly likeable, despite the vicious comments he makes.

"I'm in a film!" declares Shannon on his Twitter page today, and even if he is being exploited, it's hard to believe he's not getting something out of it. The film is a hodge-podge of archive clips and interview material but it just about gels and a host of smaller scale family stories round it out nicely. There are also enough leg puns to last you for a lifetime. If you've ever wondered what happens to all those final item one hit wonders, Finders Keepers could open your eyes.

Reviewed on: 06 Feb 2016
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Finders Keepers packshot
A documentary about the conflict that ensued after one man unwittingly purchased another man's amputated leg in an auction.

Director: Bryan Carberry, J Clay Tweel

Starring: Shannon Whisnant, John Wood

Year: 2015

Runtime: 82 minutes

Country: US


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