In 2007, in a small North Carolina town, Shannon Whisnant bought the contents of a storage locker. Among the haul: a meat smoker, in which he discovered a partially mummified human leg. An inveterate huckster, Whisnant was delighted, sensing opportunities for fame and fortune. But it turned out the leg had an owner — amputee John Wood — and he wanted it back. Whisnant refused, and Bryan Carberry and J. Clay Tweel’s documentary Finders Keepers recounts the wacky-but-true story of how two men fought over one leg.
At first, Finders seems like it’s going for mockery — look at these laughable hillbillies — but it quickly settles into a more thoughtful examination of deeper issues. For both men, the leg is a symbol of trying to reclaim some lost sense of self; Wood is a recovering addict and Whisnant a sad clown, and each has serious daddy issues. The leg battle exposes fault lines in their families, and casts an ugly light on our culture’s insatiable desire for fame. The directors mostly let Whisnant, Wood and their families tell the story, which provides a real-life seriousness to counterbalance the archival clips from sensational TV shows covering the case. Finders Keepers is truly entertaining — a real-life mash-up of Storage Wars, Intervention and Judge Mathis — but it’s a sobering, cautionary tale, too.