We must face the past sooner or later, even in those terrible aspects we would like to leave behind, as the protagonist of this 2021 movie, Wild Indian, knows well.
It all begins in a small village on the Ojibwe reservation in the heart of North America, where the reclusive and taciturn Makwa grows up.
His childhood is anything but golden, living in an environment of extreme poverty and with an alcoholic father who beats him savagely at every opportunity.
Yet even this young boy has a best friend, Teddo, who regularly goes into the woods to learn how to hunt with a rifle.
Away from the oppressive environment at home, Makwa develops a determination that finally leads him to stand up to his violent father.
Once he discovers this strength, however, he is also dominated by it and goes so far as to shoot a classmate whom he hates because everyone loves him.
Teddo, a witness to the murder, promises to keep quiet but is visibly shocked at how his friend could act coldly and without remorse.
Years later, these friends are no longer together, and Makwa, now an adult, is a successful businessman under the name Michael Peterson.
In his present world, he hides his inner demons under respect and social affirmation, living in a beautiful home with a wife and a son he loves, far from his troubled past.
Through all those years, however, Teddo spent most of his life in prison, so when he gets out, he first goes back to his old friend, saying he will reveal their secret because guilt is consuming him.
Confrontation will be immediate and violent, forcing Michael to once again become Makwa and return to the violent roots of his youth.
The suffering of a man or a culture?
I want to make it clear immediately this is not a narrative for those favoring immediacy and simplification of storytelling. The feature requires considerable patience and stubbornness in untangling the plot, which is as deep as it is enigmatic. It is not, therefore, intended for those looking for something for pure and simple entertainment.
Wild Indian, though dating from 2021, could easily have been a 1940s movie. It is imbued with subtle tension and darkness, similar to classic noir, which permeates each sequence, giving each frame a solid charge of underlying meaning.
The centerpiece of the story, the protagonist, provides a unique interpretive lens: morality, indeed, depends solely on his vision, which is markedly personal and distorted, nullifying any perception of what justice is within the plot.
He comes across as an ambivalent figure, simultaneously perpetrator and victim, shaped by the experience of an early youth surrounded by an environment of untold violence that indelibly sealed his existence.
However, I encourage you not to focus exclusively on the events involving him. The intricately layered plot offers much more.
The mysterious prologue, for example, with a native from another era at the side of his ailing spouse, holds a key unlocking angle that could radically change the entire narrative development’s interpretation.
Such drama is not confined exclusively to the figure of Makwa but is relevant to the entire universe of Native American tribes, whose collective suffering and their struggles represent a theme narrated indirectly.
Forced to deny their traditions under the violence of European invasion, these people suffered an irreparable erosion of their cultural identity.
No longer knowing who they are, they become strangers in a world that once belonged to them, wanderers with no clear destination or place to call home.
Am I alone, the fool seeing this analogy?
A great little movie, but not for everyone
Despite being a debut, Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr. displays considerable skill, a sure grip on directing, and a glacial composure in writing the script.
I was particularly impressed with his handling of the cast, where he brings lesser-known actors to the fore, relegating the bigger-name celebrities to supporting roles. It is a brave choice, yet it also reveals great confidence in the power of his performers.
Unquestionably, the centerpiece of the movie is Michael Greyeyes. He impersonates Makwa in a static, firm, and unyielding manner, bringing to life a disturbing, fascinating, and unpredictable character at once.
In the role of the protagonist as a young man, Phoenix Wilson also gives a convincing performance, so the character gradually unveils to the audience, through glances and silences, with constant tension as if always on the verge of exploding into violence.
Equally deserving of praise is Chaske Spencer, playing Teddo, also brought to life effectively by young Julian Gopal in the flashback scenes.
Teddo, although he appears more violent, ends up in prison only because he is not as clever as his friend in covering his tracks.
Although it appears to be a small independent movie, there are also familiar figures to the general public.
Kate Bosworth, for example, is extraordinary as Greta, a woman in a complicated relationship in which Makwa takes out his brutality on prostitutes and strippers while she remains unaware of his true nature.
Another notable character, although appearing only briefly, is Jesse Eisenberg, a versatile actor who plays Jerry, the protagonist’s colleague and friend.
The palpable tension between them suggests to the audience that Jerry might want to kill Makwa every time they meet, with the latter saving himself only by coincidence or luck.