“He is its birth owner, but I still feel I own it.”
Finders Keepers balances the rollicking humor of its subject matter with a surprising level of compassion. The documentary stems from a viral news story that seems like fodder for a horror movie or niche reality TV show, and directors Bryan Carberry and J. Clay Tweel don’t shy away from the weirdness as they lay out the basic plot. As we see in the film, Shannon Whisnant, an experienced bargain hunter, purchases a grill at an auction in 2007 and later discovers an amputated human foot inside. The foot’s original owner, John Wood, wants the embalmed limb back. The ensuing battle is as sad as it is bizarre, with commentary from the two men along with their families providing enough emotional context to ground the documentary in reality.
The film feels powerful in part because its aims are humbly low. The story itself, despite being quite odd, feels small in scale, affecting two people and their loved ones rather than meandering through a maze of chapters. The fight for the foot rests less on legal drama than on the nature of personal conviction. Here, the filmmakers don’t take sides; they just allow both parties to explain themselves fully—and often humorously. Whisnant’s zeal and confidence shines through as he discusses making big bucks for his new roadside attraction. He truly believes this foot is his entrepreneurial destiny. At the same time, Wood’s family describes the origin of the amputated foot (a plane crash that also killed the patriarch of the family) and its perceived purpose for a man far removed from his privileged upbringing and now caught in the midst of addiction and self-blame. The contrast between the trauma and levity demonstrated alternately by both men provides a relatable balance.
For both Wood and Whisnant, the foot spurs pivotal moments in their personal storylines when they do and don’t have it. Losing the foot as part of the accident that killed his father leads Wood’s descent into addiction, whereas his attempt to get it back from Whisnant propels him on journey toward his family and to sobriety. For Whisnant, meanwhile, the excitement of discovering the foot and confidence in trying to bargain with Wood culminate in his own path to self-discovery. As a result of purchasing the foot, his identity—familial and financial—enters a field of doubt.
Carberry and Tweel display remarkably earnest, reflective moments as Whisnant, Wood, and those that know them reflect on the aftermath of the limb’s accidental purchase. If it’s ironic that a stranger’s limb causes a bargain hunter to reconsider the importance of fame and the validity of how he makes money, it’s equally ironic that an amputee’s journey of self-discovery involves traveling halfway across the world in order to appear intoxicated on foreign talk shows, duking it out with Judge Mathis, and paying a specialist to remove skin and muscles from his amputated foot. The film benefits from the directors’ indulgence in, rather than any avoidance of, the far-fetched nature of two men’s interaction. The cheeky nature of the soap story provides viewers with easy access to a story deeper and more personal than it initially seems, with both Wood and Whisnant reevaluating their relationships with their families in the aftermath of meeting one another.
With quick pacing and smart editing, Finders Keepers moves deliberately from tabloid to tenderness. Carberry and Tweel allow the participants in the real-life drama to tell their own stories, starting from a baffling news clip and ultimately inviting viewers to listen more closely once the perceived laugh track ends. It would be hard not to suggest that the film finds its footing (pun intended) as it skips lightly along a surprisingly poignant path.