Thursday, April 26, 2018

Movie Review: Indian Horse

Indian Horse *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Stephen S. Campanelli   
Written by: Dennis Foon based on the novel by Richard Wagamese.
Starring: Sladen Peltier (Saul - 6 Yrs.), Forrest Goodluck (Saul - 15 Yrs.), Ajuawak Kapashesit (Saul - 22 Yrs.), Michiel Huisman (Father Gaston), Martin Donovan (Jack Lanahan), Michael Murphy (Father Quinney), Edna Manitowabi (Naomi), Melanie McLaren (Ruth), Johnny Issaluk (Sam), Skye Pelletier (Benjamin - 11 Yrs.), Evan Adams (Evan), Lisa Cromarty (Karen), Michael Lawrenchuk (Fred Kelly), Will Strongheart (Virgil), Braeden Crouse (Lonnie - 9 Yrs.), Eva Greyeyes (Rebecca Wolf), Lisa Oopik Minich (Katherine Wolf), Suzanne Shawbonquit (Martha Kelly). 
The time is right in Canada for a movie like Indian Horse. In the past few years, Canada has finally started to seriously grapple with our treatment of the indigenous people in this country – and while it clear that we still have a long way to go in that regard, at least we are questioning what we have done. The conversations around the acquittal of the man who killed Colton Boushie or in the great CBC podcast, Missing & Murdered, conversations are at least being had.
Indian Horse is a hockey movie in some ways – it is certainly being marketed that way for its Canada wide release, but it’s really a story of the ongoing legacy of the Residential school system – a program that for generations took native children away from their families, put them in religious “schools” where they faced horrific abuse, all in an effort to get them to assimilate – to become “more Canadian”. The main character in Indian Horse is Saul – whose parents were products of those schools, and who at the age of 6 finds himself in one himself. He suffers abuse at the hands of various priests and nuns at the school – his only outlet, the only thing that brings him any pride and joy, is the game of hockey. He teaches himself the game, becomes a star for the school team, and then goes and becomes a star for one of the Reservation teams as well. Eventually the pros come knocking – but there, he finds a different type of abuse. Not even his teammates stand up for him.
Indian Horse is not a perfect movie. It is a little too earnest at times, the dialogue can be a little on the nose, and not all of the performances are wholly convincing. Director Stephen S. Campenelli has worked with Clint Eastwood for years, and it shows in his style. Like Eastwood, Campenelli is a classicist – his direction is simple, and plays things pretty much right down the middle. For the most part, this works really well – it is not a movie that requires a lot of overt stylistics.
I do wish the movie was a little more complex than it is – the film ultimately has a very simple moral outlook, and while it’s effective, it’s also more than a little reductive. The ending rings a little false as well – and brings to mind many questions (the biggest being why did it take Saul a decade to do what he does at the end?).
Mainly though, Indian Horse well – it’s an often painful film to watch, but an honest and sincere one. If it takes hockey to bring some Canadians to the film, to reckon with the consequences of our past, so be it.

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