Saturday, 4 April 2009

Movie Review - Cheyenne Warrior

Cheyenne Warrior is a little known 1994 direct-to-video film with a largely unknown cast,, set in the time of the American Civil War. Pregnant Rebecca Carver (Kelly Preston) and her husband Matthew (Charles Powell) find themselves stranded on a remote trading post. The owner of this post is friendly towards the Cheyenne Indians (and in fact married one of them, though his wife died some time ago). Matthew however is less sure about them and when he finds out that they are on the tale of two white buffalo hunters, he goes off to warn the white man, who must obviously be his allies (even though he doesn’t really trust them either – but he is rather dim). The Cheyenne are disgusted that the buffalo are killed just for their hides, with the carcasses just left to rot on the land, otherwise are peaceful and in favour of leaving the “White Man” alone. In what ensues, Matthew, the owner of the outpost, both buffalo hunters, and all but one of the Cheyenne get killed so Rebecca is left to fend for herself through the winter – and with the unsettling task of nursing a Cheyenne Warrior, Hawk (Pato Hoffmann), back to health at the same time, along with a different, more vicious tribe in the same area making an attack…

Slowly a bond of friendship that seems about to blossom into romance forms between them. But Hawk’s own people start to turn against him as many of them think all white people are their enemies. When the time for Rebecca’s giving birth comes, that is only the first test of their relationship – which will be stronger, their attachment for each other, or to their people?

And from this interesting premise comes a nice film with its heart set firmly in the right place, and one of the most sensitive treatments of the period and American Indians I’ve seen for a long time. (I can’t stand most “Cowboys and Indians” films, and usually only watch them if they’re comedies rather than westerns.) Pato Hoffmann is exceptional in his role, and while I’ve seen a few reviews slating Kelly Preston’s performance, she certainly isn’t all that bad. Like Nicole Kidman in Cold Mountain (which was set in around the same time period) however, she plays frail and fragile better than tough and independent. The make-up people did a great job of making her look genuinely pregnant in the first part of the film. The cinematography (Blake T. Evans) and direction (Mark Griffiths) are both pretty good without really excelling, but this is mainly due to the main flaw of the film – the scriptwriting (Michael B. Druxman). There are plenty of good ideas in here, and some good dialogue (“I though all you Indians were brothers”… “But I thought all white men were brothers!”), but the plot lacks drive and consistency, which many scenes apparently coming out of nowhere, which is shown up all the more by the rather slow pacing of the film in general. The original musical score by Arthur Kempel (who also did the music for the TV series “Diagnosis Murder”, among other things) is good (though nothing particularly special) but does fit the mood of the film well.

There is a decent amount of action and a touch of humour here and there to help the story along, though it still feels a little disjointed at times. In part the inconsistent writing is redeemed by the fact that the plot doesn’t follow the obvious route, and even at the end things don't happen at all how you think they will. If the storyline had been better paced and more consistent, this could have been a truly excellent film. Still, it's a great deal better than most direct-to-video films and while it’s by no means perfect, this film deserves to be a lot better known than it is.

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