"CSA: The Confederate States of America" director Kevin Willmott shifts his genre revisionism from the documentary to the oater in "The Only Good Indian," retaining his interest in the injustices of century-old American history.

“CSA: The Confederate States of America” director Kevin Willmott shifts his genre revisionism from the documentary to the oater in “The Only Good Indian,” retaining his interest in the injustices of century-old American history. Shot in Kansas on a modest budget, the handsomely produced horse opera stumbles as storytelling over a long stretch, and the final shootout is unconvincingly staged, but Willmott does succeed in delivering an unusual Western — with a white man as semi-noble savage and a Native American man as upwardly mobile clotheshorse — out of limited means. A cable sale would do the well-acted film proud.

Pivoting on the issue of American Indian assimilation, pic follows the escape from boarding school of preteen Nachwihiata, aka Charlie (Winter Fox Frank), who’s soon apprehended by Sam Franklin (Wes Studi), a bounty hunter of Indians and an aspiring detective. First and last shots directly mimic those of “The Searchers,” while, as a lawman on Nachwihiata/Charlie’s trail, J. Kenneth Campbell channels something of John Wayne’s gruff spirit. Presumably temporary, the video print screened at Sundance failed to represent the pic’s impressive 35mm lensing. Occasional Cherokee dialogue is subtitled in English.

The Only Good Indian

Production

A Thomas L. Carmody production. Produced by Carmody, Rick Cowan, Matt Cullen, Greg Hurd, Scott Richardson, Kevin Willmott. Executive producers, Hanay Geiogamah, J.T. O'Neal, Dan Wildcat. Co-producer, Stan Herd. Directed by Kevin Willmott. Screenplay, Thomas L. Carmody.

Crew

Camera (color), Matthew Jacobson, Jeremy Osbern; editors, Sean Blake, Thad Nurski, Mark von Schlemmer; music, Kip Haaheim; production designer, Scott Murray; art director, Misti Boland; set decorators, Joyce Manning, Stan Herd. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Spectrum), Jan. 18, 2009. English, Cherokee dialogue. Running time: 114 MIN.

With

Wes Studi, J. Kenneth Campbell, Winter Fox Frank, Paul Butler, Christopher Wheatley, Laura Kirk, Thirza Defoe.
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