(director/writer: Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr.; cinematographer: Eli Born; editor: Ed Yonaitis; music: Gavin Brivik; cast: Michael Greyeyes (Makwa/Michael Peterson), Kirstyn Anderson (self-back-background), Evan Assante (classmate), Chaska Spencer (Ted-O), Jesse Eisenberg (Jerry, co-worker), John Gibbs (Wild Indian), Kody Burns (Mrs. Kroll), Kate Bosworth (Greta, Wife), Phoenix Wilson (Makwa), Julian Gopal (Ted-Do), Lisa Cromarty (Cammy),  Scott Haze (Priest), Tres Garcia (Daniel, nephew); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Eric Tavitian/Thomas Mahoney /Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr.; Boulderlight Pictures; 2021)

“The sincere and angry film marks the inspired directorial debut of Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Native American based drama channels its energy on the past, on violence and on religious guilt. The sincere and angry film marks the inspired directorial debut of Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr., whose film could possibly be called a film noir. 

e’re on a Wisconsin reservation in the 1980s. We meet there a deeply troubled physically abused Native American teen Makwa (Phoenix Wilson). He is questioned in the Catholic school he attends by a Catholic priest (Scott Haze), but refuses to tell him that he was beaten by his dad. Makwa only trusts his playmate cousin Ted-O (Julian Gopal) when it comes to confiding on personal matters.

One day while both boys were walking in the woods on the reservation, Makwa in a fit of envy against his aboriginal classmate,
impulsively shoots and kills him with the rifle the boys use to walk in the woods with. It was borrowed without permission from Ted-O’s father. Ted-O despite his revulsion at the killing, helps his friend bury the body in the woods. 

Some 35 years later as adults, Makwa (Michael Greyeyes), who now calls himself Michael Peterson, is a successful but crass executive at a large marketing firm and is married to the beautiful blonde Greta (Kate Bosworth), with whom he has an infant son. Ted-O (Chaska Spencer), had a different fate. He’s just released from prison after serving a 10-year sentence, and his face is heavily covered by tattoos.

Michael is uptight about his heritage and fully aware of a rage burning inside him, as he hangs out with his white workplace pals like Jerry (
Jesse Eisenberg) trying to hide his Indian traits out of shame. He receives the news that his wife is pregnant again negatively. Meanwhile the released felon Ted-O gets work as a restaurant dishwater, as he tries to fit into society. He also reunites with his supportive sister Cammy (Lisa Cromarty). Though he sleeps in a tent outside the house, showing he’s still not house-broken.

When Ted-O visits the mother of the boy Mawka killed, he’s overcome with guilt and confesses to her his part in the crime.

In a stunning move, Ted-O goes to Michael’s house and pulls a gun on him.

In this bleak film, layered with complex psychological implications, the performances by
Greyeyes and Spencer are intense. When either is on screen, it’s hard to watch them without feeling how tortured both are and how lost they are because they have been cut off from their native culture and have no one they trust to counsel them. Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr wisely lets us see for ourselves that the Indigenous people experienced not only genocide in the battlefield but in the peacetime reservations of America.

[Sundance Review] WILD INDIAN

REVIEWED ON 3/12/2021  GRADE: B+