Wild Indian, 2021.
Written and Directed by Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr.
Starring Michael Greyeyes, Kate Bosworth, Phoenix Wilson, Jesse Eisenberg, Scott Haze, Lisa Cromarty, Julian Gopal, Sheri Foster, Claudia Lee, Jenna Leigh Green, Kody Burns, Joel Michaely, Lauren Newsham, Mike Page, Elisha Pratt, and Chaske Spencer.
Two men learn to confront a traumatic secret they share involving the savage murder of a schoolmate.
At one point during Wild Indian, Michael (a shatteringly empathetic turn from Michael Greyeyes), who is a Native American albeit a self-loathing one that no longer goes by the name Makwa and seems to want nothing to do anymore with his heritage, has an outburst expressing that all Indians are “liars and narcissists.” First off, those are his words and not mine, but it’s the kind of loaded expression of self-hatred that further speaks to a confused character shrouded in a traumatic upbringing, a violent past, and resulting demons causing an internal struggle within his morality.
Make no mistake about it; there’s plenty to unpack in writer/director Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr.’s Wild Indian, which studies generational pain through a pair of protagonists (one of which sticks it out in his middle of nowhere life of misery, whereas the aforementioned Makwa, even as a preteen, desperately wants to run off and ingratiate himself into a more Americanized lifestyle thinking it will be the solution to his troubled and abusive life). However, the longer the adulthood portion goes on simultaneously becoming more complicated and gripping, there is also a constant feeling that only 15 minutes of childhood scenes does a disservice to the rest of the character study, especially considering the film itself is not even 90 minutes and the tiled performances are likewise stirring.
Nevertheless, it’s evident that Makwa (Phoenix Wilson) is raised inside of a broken home, with his male guardian constantly terrorizing him or his partner, occasionally getting physical. Naturally, the rampant domestic abuse harms Makwa’s psyche, convincing his cousin Ted-O (Julian Gopal) to let him break into his dad’s room and borrow his rifle. Makwa also appears dangerously upset that a white classmate is interested in a boy two years younger than her, presumably wishing she talked to him. This speaks to his confused mindset regarding wanting to escape anything to do with his Native American identity as he does go on to marry a white woman (played by Kate Bosworth), and of course, unsettling vibes to let out senseless rage. Makwa notices this boy walking in the woods and then proceeds, with dead eyes, to shoot him. Following this, he pleads with Ted-O for assistance burying the body and covering up the murder. They turn out to be successful, as it’s also the moment where their lives are drastically changed forever.
Makwa now lives in a large metropolis as he dreamed of, currently working a generic office job at some high-end corporation under a chipper boss (Jesse Eisenberg, who seems to have a great deal of care and faith for the project considering he’s both an executive producer and has such a limited role, although no wasted screen presence) providing for an idyllic family. Meanwhile, Ted-O (now played with numbness and regret by Chaske Spencer) is a junkie that has been in and out of jail for over 20 years, notably for non-violent crimes. Having just been set free once again, he reunites with his estranged sister Cammy (Lisa Cromarty) and gets to know his young nephew Daniel. These attempts are also short-lived as it’s palpably eating away at Ted-O that he has to make the pastor right to move forward with a clear conscience.
As for that perfect family life Makwa, now Michael, is currently living, it’s a mask. One uncomfortable sequence sees Michael at a strip club enjoying the company of a dancer (it’s also worthwhile mentioning that even the most minor scenes are capable of informing and expanding what we know about these characters), afterward inquiring if they can go somewhere private where he can choke her in exchange for money. Presumably, under the impression that it’s a sexual fantasy, the woman agrees, but when it’s time to act out the scenario, it’s anything but kinky; there’s a tortured and deranged man here doing whatever he can to keep his violent impulses at bay from those he loves.
Wild Indian is assuredly more interested in exploring the complexity of Michael, so the balancing can occasionally feel off when studying him and Ted-O (as a result, some scenes involving the latter don’t feel as impactful as they should), but it’s a thoughtful and restrained piece often with its mind in the right place. Sometimes going to the most extreme lengths can’t fix trauma or erase the past. The film has a bumpy start, but Michael Greyeyes’ absorbing turn leaves a lasting, mortifying impression.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com