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Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr
prd Thomas Mahoney, Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr, Eric Tavitian
with Michael Greyeyes, Chaske Spencer, Lisa Cromarty, Phoenix Wilson, Julian Gopal, Kate Bosworth, Jesse Eisenberg, Scott Haze, Sheri Foster Blake, Hilario Garcia III, Joel Michaely, Jenna Leigh Green
release US 3.Sep.21,
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
Is it streaming?
As it grapples with issues of identity and justice, an ethereal tone engulfs this bleak indigenous American drama. Drawing on his own Objiwe heritage, writer-director Lyle Mitchell Corbine adds layers to characters and situations that force audience to engage on an especially intense level. It may get a bit melodramatic, but this is a sensitive, thoughtful film that has a lot to say in a short time.
In 1980s Wisconsin, bullied outcast teen Makwa (Wilson) kills his tormenter, and his only friend Ted-O (Gopal) helps make sure no one ever knows what happened. By 2019, Makwa (now Greyeyes) has left the reservation, changed his name to Michael, launched a career and married Greta (Bosworth), who's pregnant with their second child. Meanwhile, Ted-O (now Spencer) is just out of prison and needs to clear his conscience, so he sets out to find his old friend. And now Michael has to return to Wisconsin to answer some questions and face up to his past.
The film opens with a flashback to the days when the Objiwe were wiped out by European diseases. This isn't an attempt to excuse Makwa's sociopathic tendencies, but it does play into the underlying themes about the legacy of injustice. Respected at work and home, the sociopathic Michael struggles to feel anything at all, indulging in terrifying role play with strippers. By contrast, Ted-O has a warm relationship with his sister (Cromarty) and young nephew (Garcia).
Because the characters avoid stereotypes, the actors have the chance to breathe unusual life into them, balancing darker and lighter sides in realistic ways. As Michael, Greyeyes has a steely presence that's more than a little scary, as if he could snap at any moment. Spencer is particularly strong as the complex Ted-O, and their confrontation is heart-stopping. Where the film goes allows Greyeyes to dig even deeper into Michael's heart, perhaps even finding a glimmer of hope.
Corbine is unafraid to go to some grim places with this story, and his actors dive in without hesitation. This gives the film an angle that's almost horrific, as sinister attitudes emerge in boldly outspoken scenes. Michael speaks about his heritage as if he's descended from cowards who died of smallpox without fighting. But it's clear that he has been deeply shaken after being forced to revisit the past he has tried for three decades to push out of his mind. And the way Corbine rejects any simplistic answers is important.
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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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