Synopsis: A tragedy marks two young Native Americans with repercussions into adulthood. (Streaming on Amazon Prime and Apple tv+)
Wild Indian has a promising set up: two youngsters marked by a terrible crime, face a reckoning decades later. And writer-director Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr. brings a welcome perspective as a Native American. He says his intention was to create an “archetype of a Native or lost Native man.”
We’re introduced to two Anishinaabe kids of the Ojibwe tribe (around 12 or 13 years old) growing up in the 1980’s in the American Midwest. Makwa (Phoenix Wilson) is terribly abused by his young parents. A priest at his school offers him help, but he’s too afraid to tell the truth. When the poor kid isn’t being beaten by his father, he spends time in the woods, target shooting with his mildmannered cousin Ted-O (Julian Gopal).
One day, Makwa shows up at school and his face is basically one huge contusion. I know that faculty and social services are usually stretched thin, but it’s quite something that no one reported suspicion of abuse as required by state law. But for the movie’s purposes, it’s good that they don’t because otherwise Makwa couldn’t sit in chapel and listen to the priest deliver a sermon about Cain and Abel and their less than ideal sibling relationship. (Cain murdered his brother Abel and then, when his parents ask where the heck is Abel, he lies and says, I dunno, you expect me to look out for him? Well, maybe not look out for him, but definitely don’t murder him.)
Soon afterward, a brutalized Makwa –how can I say this without spoilers? causes grievous bodily injury to a classmate because he’s jelly that he has a cute girlfriend. He convinces his cuz, Ted-O, to cover up the crime. Makwa was being quite the Cain.
Cut to present day where we see a man being released from prison. He has some cool tattoos, like OJIBWE across his neck and a big job-stopper pawprint on his cheek. I couldn’t tell whether it was a bear or wolfprint, but def not a pawprint from a cute, unintimidating animal like a rabbit. He even has e v i l inked across his fingers. I guess Makwa’s trajectory was unsurprising. Wait! It’s not Cain-like Makwa, but Ted-O!
Meanwhile, Makwa (Michael Greyeyes) is living the highlife. He’s a corporate success with a beautiful wife and baby. Like a total sociopath, he fakes friendliness and caring while twitching to beat someone. One night he goes to a strip club and offers to pay one of the dancers if she’ll submit to being choked out. Ugh, so peeved by this movie trope. Time to watch a film set in Iceland where there are no strip clubs. (The law was passed as part of an effort to disrupt the objectification and commodification of women and promote an egalitarian society.)
When Makwa does something bad, he goes to church and prays. One of the lesser bad things he has done is turn his back on his Native heritage. He has changed his name to Michael Peterson. Although he does wear a braid and has an expensive-looking print of a warrior in headdress in his upmarket apartment. One traditionally very white thing he does is golf.
Makwa/Michael works in a business of some sort and is up for a big promotion. But his work is in the same realm as the main character’s in the risible The Room. The screenwriter didn’t seem to have an idea of what a white collar professional might do or even take a few minutes of time to sketch out what kind of company the character worked for. Instead we get his colleague Jerry (Jesse Eisenberg) fawning over him and jizzing over how great it’ll be when Makwa/Michael gets promoted.
Makwa/Michael’s white wife Greta (Kate Bosworth) is a beautiful ditz. She tells her husband she wants to become a stay at home mom because, she giggles, HR is so boring. Huh? Earlier, her hubs told the club worker that his wife used to be an exotic dancer too. Makwa/Michael had marveled over the stripper’s soft skin before propositioning her. Later, at home, he wonders over his son’s soft skin and asks his wife if babies always have such soft skin. I’m seeing strong indications of a soft skin obsession.
Ted-O has more important things on his mind, like backbreaking guilt over the childhood…incident. After serving time for drug possession, he returns to the family house where his sister Cassie (Lisa Cromarty) lives with her son Daniel ( Tres Garcia). She says he’s welcome to stay and sorry that she never visited him in ten years. Awkward. But Ted-O is gracious about it and goes to sleep in a tent in the backyard.
Ted-O looks for work and grudgingly gets hired by a woman who says nobody is gonna want to see his tatts. Thanks, lady. She gives him a sour look and tells him he’ll be washing dishes. While Ted-O bonds with his little nephew and mops tiles, he decides he needs to find his cousin and talk about the past. He brings a gun. Uh, generally not good for clearing the air.
Now, in spite of an excellent performance by Chaske Spencer as Ted-O, I must now convey to you how deeply dumb the movie is. Even during the sympathetic scenes with the poor kid Makwa suffering abuse, you can’t help but feel a narrative drag, similar to the teens’ story in The Place Beyond the Pines. It gets worse. Every scene with Makwa’s character is stilted, weighed down by poor dialogue and unbelievable outcomes.
Case in point: any of the scenes involving attorneys. The worst acting and dialogue is reserved for the counselors. One lawyer tells a character that because a victim was “a little mentally ill” the case won’t go anywhere. Another person (possibly a police detective or prosecutor) actually says, “too much time has passed to do anything.” Then, to show what a buffoon he is, he pontificates about suicide being a big killer on the ‘rez.’ Oh, right so any coroner will just mark a suspicious Native American death as “suicide”? Sure, people shoot themselves from thirty yards away with their thirty yard-long arms on a regular basis.
More bad dialogue: Mawka/Michael’s monologuing consists of him yelling at a hospital bedridden woman that he is somebody now! And in a real act of heresy, he declares Indians to be a bunch of “liars and narcissists.” Oh, but Mawka/Michael can’t you see that it is YOU who is a liar and narcissist?
Corbine reportedly shot Crazy Indian in just seventeen days and spent six years laboring over the script. The director has promise. But the screenwriter might want to consider giving voice to another, more talented Native American voice.
Movie Loon’s Movie Review Shortcut:
Cut to the Chase: What could’ve been an intriguing story is weighed down by a poor script.
Humor Highlight: I’m not sure if Jesse Eisenberg’s character was supposed to be comic relief, but it is.