As 2004’s “The Passion of the Christ” drove home so emphatically, a great unserved appetite exists for Christian-themed films, so it’s no surprise that movies such as director/co-writer Jim Hanon’s “End of the Spear” are moving in to fill the void. Pic is based on the real-life 1956 incident in which five American missionaries were killed by a remote Amazonian tribe. The story was reported on at the time by Life magazine photojournalist Cornell Capa. Although overly earnest and often stilted, the film should find great favor principally among religious auds, and a long life on the home-vid shelves.
“End of the Spear” approaches its story primarily as a family drama. Nate Saint (Chad Allen) is the beloved husband of Marj Saint (Cara Stoner) and father of their young son, Steve (Chase Ellison). A skilled pilot, Nate is also devoted to what he sees as his spiritual duty: Finding — and eventually converting — an isolated Ecuadorian tribe called the Waodani, whose internecine warfare threatens to exterminate them.
Although exactly how Nate and his 4-member team plan to save the Waodani is not clearly articulated, it involves their spreading the word of God to the natives. But, they are killed almost immediately by the Waodani, whom the filmmakers portray — not as the noble savages one might expect — but as ignorant, fearful and, especially, superstitious. The allegorical impulse of the film is to position the missionaries as angelic, and the tribe members, who have yet to hear God’s word, as mere savages with Mincayani (Louie Leonardo) the most fierce and resistant of the Waodani.
Lenser Robert Driskell has some spectacular territory to work with (principal photography took place in Panama, rather than the dramatic setting of Ecuador’s Amazon basin). But Driskell’s work, like many of the film’s technical aspects, also involved logistical hurdles, all overcome with aplomb. Aerial work for a scene when Nate takes tribesmen up in a small plane is particularly impressive.
“End of the Spear,” with its double-edged title, is a decidedly talky movie, one that gets going only after news of the missionaries’ deaths reaches their families, and wives and children move in with the inhospitable tribes people. Narrated by the adult Steve Saint (Allen again), it tells us almost everything we see happening — but without a lot of resulting illumination.
Likewise, the music by Ronald Owen is unnecessarily, and inappropriately, triumphant, even strident, where it should perhaps be more melancholic; not every move made by the “good” characters requires a heroic fanfare.
“End of the Spear” contains a large amount of violence, although it is a long way from the relentless brutality of “The Passion of the Christ” and violence didn’t hurt that movie. Pic is, as one might expect, a far more understated work, although it’s primary point is evangelical, all the same.