Wild Indian

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Wild Indian
"Corbine gets caught up trying to cover the narrative ground, to set up both characters in twin time periods and explore their motivations and relationship." | Photo: Eli Born

The impact of the past on the present runs through Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr's drama about a violent shared childhood secret that has festered between two men. Unfolding mostly in the present, with flashbacks to the 1980s, we first meet Makwa and Ted-o as children, living on a Wisconsin reservation. Makwa's homelife is one of abuse at the hands of his father. The youngster, his voice on the cusp of cracking, is brimming with repressed anger and resentment when he does something that he then persuades Ted-o to cover up. In case we're in any doubt how it makes him feel, Corbine underlines this with a school sermon about a "tortured soul".

In the present day, the roles seem to have reversed, with Makwa now adopting the anglicised name Michael and becoming fully corporate, his plaited ponytail carefully cultivated for show, while Ted-o is covered in tattoo ink and getting out of jail after his latest stretch, with a view to reconciling himself with the past. Michael carries the trauma with him in his interactions with his son and his sexual predilections but because of having to cram so much storytelling into his film's trim 90 minutes, Corbine struggles to successfully explore the psychology of all this - we can see what Michael is doing but it's hard to get a real handle on how he feels about any of it beyond a sort of Patrick Bateman-style sociopathy.

The film gets caught up trying to cover the narrative ground, to set up both characters in twin time periods and explore their motivations and relationship, and that's before you factor in a prologue and epilogue about the Ojibwe tribe, set in the past, which struggles to find the resonant connection to the here and now you suspect Corbine is hoping for. Although Ted-o is the secondary character - and his character as a child (played by Julian Gopal) much more sketchy as a result - by dint of his emotional awareness and Chaske Spencer's charismatic performance, he is much more easy to relate to than the cooler, impenetrable Michael (though very well played by Michael Greyeyes), which upsets the balance of the film. Scenes showing Ted-o reconnecting with his sister and her nephew have a natural feel that only serves to make the crisis Michael is building to feeling more scripted than organic.

Corbine certainly has plenty of potential, there's no doubt his idea of exploring the psychological conflicts between past and present and the heritage of colonialism within the context of the North American indigenous experience is ambitious and underserved by Hollywood more generally. He also has an eye for imagery, with scenes in the woodland of the reservation offering a strong sense of place and he elicits an impressive performance from Phoenix Wilson, as the young Makwa, built as much on looks and body language as it is on script. While the pieces may not slot entirely smoothly together in his debut, every inch of it has potential.

Reviewed on: 31 Jan 2021
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Two men are inextricably bound together after covering up the savage murder of a schoolmate. After years of separation following wildly divergent paths, they must finally confront how their traumatic secret has irrevocably shaped their lives.

Director: Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr

Writer: Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr

Starring: Michael Greyeyes, Chaske Spencer, Jesse Eisenberg, Kate Bosworth, Phoenix Wilson, Julian Gopal

Year: 2021

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: US

Festivals:

Sundance 2021

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