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Movie Review: 'Wild Indian' Forces Confrontation Of Deep, Destructive Legacies

Wild Indian opens some number of decades, or centuries, ago, with an Ojibwe man making his way west. But this is not some grand adventure—the man has left his people because he has contracted some kind of pox, and whether he’s left to heal, or die, he clearly cannot be with them anymore.

We can assume this man contracted the disease from European invaders, but this isn’t the thrust of Wild Indian. Or, if it is, the movie doesn’t make that obvious, although we have to understand it’s there. What is apparent is the idea of infection, particularly the insidious nature of abuse and shared trauma, as the story picks up in earnest in the 1980s with two young Ojibwe teenagers, Makwa and his cousin Ted-O. They both seem to be good kids, but Makwa is being physically abused by his father, and that darkness works its way inside him and takes hold. One day when he and Ted-O are out hunting, Makwa sees a classmate in the distance, a boy who happens to be dating a girl Makwa likes, and Makwa shoots the boy, killing him—a crime he and the horrified Ted-O then cover up.

Jump ahead to the present day, and Makwa is now Michael, a successful businessman who made his way west to California, but who still very much has that corrosive infection inside him. The parts of him that don’t seem dead are filled with hatred, and he loathes his past and his people:

We’re the descendants of cowards. Everyone worthwhile died fighting.

The performance by Michael Greyeyes as Michael is devastating, but it’s Chaske Spencer as the adult Ted-O who completely owns the screen, as a man who’s so filled with guilt and rage you can see it pulsing under his skin. Wild Indian is a difficult, blistering film that doesn’t offer us any easy interpretations or conclusions, but that forces us to confront our deep, destructive legacies.

Wild Indian is available on VOD.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.