Judge Gordon Sullivan is petitioning to have the film's name changed to Indigenous American.
Anything broken can be fixed.
While watching The Indian, I was reminded of the anecdote about Johnny Cash's first time in a studio (dramatized in Walk the Line). At first, he plays some sappy pop song, but the producer stops him and tells him to play the next song like it was the last thing he could ever play. The haunting "Folsom Prison Blues" emerged and the rest is history. I'm reminded of that story because writer/director James R. Gorrie, when confronted with the opportunity to make a film, went for the sappy pop song. The Indian is yet another story where a life-threatening illness causes a parent to return to an abandoned child so they can bond over some shared activity.
In the case of The Indian, runaway dad Skip (Sal Landi, Bulletproof) returns to his son Danny (Matt Dallas, Kyle XY), a troubled teen with anger issues. The two bond over the repair of an old Indian motorcycle. The big twist is that Skip has hepatitis C, and his only chance at survival is a partial liver transplant from his only living blood-relative: Danny. The revelation of Skip's true intentions could tear their fragile truce apart.
Aside from some iffy dialogue, there's nothing particularly wrong with The Indian. The problem is there's nothing particularly right either, and the film doesn't bring anything new to the terminally-ill tear-jerker table. The film starts by setting up the dissolute lifestyle of Skip and then delivers the news of his illness, while across town Danny is an angry young man with father issues. The revelation of his illness leads Skip to reunite with his family, and we watch as he tentatively tries to forge a relationship with his son. In a parallel thread, Danny gets involved romantically with an attractive mechanic, and the two commiserate on the difficulties of growing up with absent parental figures. The whole film culminates in a three-hanky scene that is entirely satisfying from a narrative stand-point but feels utterly hollow. Apparently being terminally-ill turns you into a relatively cool person.
Obviously filmed on the lower end of the budget spectrum, The Indian is surprisingly well-acted. Matt Dallas isn't given much to do but brood, but he does so remarkably well (even if he doesn't go much beyond James Dean territory). Sal Landi as Skip has a bit more business, with his change from hard-partying deadbeat dad to sympathetic patient, and surprisingly keeps the melodramatic material in check. Sure, the script tends to over emphasize every emotional beat, but it helps that Dallas and Landi don't overplay their roles. Alison Haislip deserves some kudos for her role as the love interest. It's a thankless role in a more family-centered film like this one, but she handles it well.
When I said some of the dialogue was a bit iffy, I wasn't kidding. Here's a transcript of an actual conversation in the film between Danny and Shelby (the love interest):
After some discussion of Skip's recent arrival back in Danny's life…
Danny: I don't trust him.
Shelby: What do you got to lose?
Danny: I got nothin' to lose. Not now, anyway. My life blows in a major way.
Shelby: Can't be all bad.
Danny: Yeah, pretty much is.
Shelby: At least your mom didn't sleep with your best friend's dad and run off with your soccer coach when you were 13. Talk about a role model.
Danny: That does suck.
I can't decide what disturbs me more. Is it Danny's glib "I got nothin' to lose?" Is it the overdone "my mom slept around and left when I was young so I'm messed up" sob story? Is it Danny's wonderful riposte "That does suck?" I simply can't decide. What I do know is that Dallas and Haislip deserve some kind of award for not only getting through this exchange with straight faces, but actually making it somewhat dramatic and believable.
For a film that would probably be consigned to the mists of obscurity without the recent fame of its young star, The Indian gets solid DVD release. Shot with an HD camera on a small budget, The Indian looks about as good as anyone could hope. It has a slightly "digital" look, but otherwise 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer is free of major artifacts and compression problems. The surround track doesn't offer much outside the front speakers, but dialogue is crisp and audible. Extras start with an audio commentary pairing writer/director James R. Gorrie with stars Alison Haislip and Matt Dallas. The trio are fairly talkative and seem to remember the film with some fondness, dishing out production info and behind-the-scenes stories. The other two extras include some footage of auditions and rehearsals. The disc rounds out with a trailer for the film.
The Indian is one of those heart-warming, tear-jerking dramas about families being brought together by tragedy. If that's your bag, then The Indian will give deftly provide your fix. If you're looking for something new in the genre, one that doesn't trade in on all the common tropes, then look elsewhere.
The Indian is guilty of bringing nothing new to the table.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
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