Judge David Johnson was pleased to find this Rick Schroder movie free of miniature trains.
F*** the white man.
Facts of the Case
In this film by Rick Schroeder (NYPD Blue) a fiery young Navajo boxer named Black Cloud (Eddie Spears) is tormented by his own fear and anger. Anger at what? Well, that's not exactly clear. He's angry at the rednecks that harass him. He's angry at his boxing trainer (Russel Means, Last of the Mohicans), who challenges him. And he's wicked angry at the white man for taking his land.
So Black Cloud channels this fury into his fists, and soon makes a name for himself as an amateur boxer to watch. During one bout, an Olympic scout catches sight of Black Cloud laying waste to an opponent, detects some talent, and offers Cloud a chance to try out for the Olympics.
Black Cloud scoffs at the opportunity, refusing to participate in an event he feels is offensive to his people, and focuses just on his life on the reservation. This life includes building a relationship with his girlfriend and her son, staying out of trouble from the sheriff (Tim McGraw, Friday Night Lights), and beating the phlegm out of loud-mouthed a-hole Eddie (Schroder).
But as Black Cloud opts out of facing his anger, he finds himself slipping into a self-destructive vortex of alcoholism and violence, and a free-fall that may ultimately nix his dreams of boxing stardom.
Black Cloud is a mediocre film that had the potential to be something much better lurking somewhere within. Schroder's heart was in the right place, but unfortunately he just couldn't land the deal. The idea of making a film following a Native American boxing prodigy and his life on a reservation sparkles with possibilities, but several major flaws hamper the effort.
First is Black Cloud himself. Spears has a terrific physical presence on his screen, but his acting leaves something to be desired. And the fact that the Black Cloud character is antagonistic to the audience sure doesn't help. From the moment we meet him, and pretty much up to the overwrought conversion experience you know he has to have, Black Cloud is a jerk. And not the kind of jerk where you feel sympathy for him because he's got a good reason to be pissed and you relate to his misery. Yeah, the white man sucks, but his friends on the reservation—particularly his girlfriend, who has it much worse—seem to be able to make it through the day without puncturing someone's lung.
But that's nothing. The slow burn explodes when Black Cloud finds out his great-great-grandfather was white. Well, this can't be, and he starts his descent into self-loathing and self-immolation, going on and on about his blood being tainted and so on and so forth.
Well, if I had to hang around with the white people that Black Cloud has to abide, I'd probably be seething as well. There's only one decent white character in the film, the boxing scout. All the others are jerks, and unbelievably so. Wayne Knight plays a lecherous real estate agent who taunts Black Cloud and his girlfriend, unloading all kinds of offensive racial slurs. Seriously, who makes jokes like "It's black and white…actually, it's black and red"? Yet this clown does, in front of a pissed-off Navajo boxing star, no less. The other white characters aren't much better. McGraw's sheriff is a close-minded buffoon who excuses a redneck from stabbing Black Cloud's friend with a broken bottle. As for Rick Schroder, it was great to see him as a total bastard on screen, but his Eddie was just a soulless twit with no redeeming qualities at all. I can appreciate that there are some tools out there, and apparently there's nothing wrong with portraying white people as the devil's spawn, but it's just too much of a stretch to think that there wasn't one nondespicable character within fifty miles of the reservation.
But Black Cloud overcomes and eventually reorganizes his worldview, thanks to a few syrupy montages of riding on a wild mustang and following an eagle and flashing back to visit his deceased mother and so on. It's all very melodramatic. And predictable.
Finally, a word about the boxing. There are only two boxing matches in the film: one at the beginning, one at the end. Schroder does a good job with these scenes, though he made some stylistic missteps a few times (Black Cloud getting mad with a tiger growling in the background elicited laughs). But it's obvious that Black Cloud isn't a boxing movie. It's a coming-of-age story about an unpleasant young man who just happens to box.
As is the norm, New Line puts out solid efforts even with the more unknown releases. The picture quality is excellent. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is clean and free of dirt, and the colors are sharp—the bright reds of the desert are particularly vivid. Both digital mixes, DTS 5.1 and Dolby 5.1, are effective. The film features a variety of music, from rap to orchestral to an original composition by Tim McGraw, and they all sound strong in both tracks. The boxing sounds are solid as well, with punches delivering nice shots of bass.
The only special feature of note is a commentary by Rick Schroder, Tim McGraw, and boxing coach Jimmy Gambina. It's a good track, light and fun, with Schroder and McGraw—obviously friends—enjoying the chance to talk about the movie.
Black Cloud isn't bad. It's just sad. Sad that a flick dealing with ripe subject matter falters, ultimately dragging it down to the mat for a TKO.
Guilty. The accused is sent back to the barren wilderness for another vision quest.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
• Commentary with Actor-Director Rick Schroder, Actor Tim McGraw, and Boxing Coach Jimmy Gambina
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