ROAD TO PALOMA
The only good Indian is a dead Indian, still?
Film Review © 2014 by Trip Reynolds
Directed by Jason Momoa; Screenplay by Jason Momoa, robert Homer Mollohan, and Jonathan Hirschbein. Produced by Jason Momoa and Brian Andrew Mendoza; Executive produced by Michael J. Luisi, Jamey Pryde, and Sarah Shahi; Associate produced by Eric Laciste, James Mendoza, and Robert Homer Mollohan.
Starring: Jason Momoa (as Wolf), Robert Homer Mollohan (as Wolf's best friend, Cash), Lisa Bonet (as Magdalena), Lance Henriksen (FBI Agent Kelly), Wes Studi (as Native American police officer and Wolf's father, Numay), Timothy V. Murphy (as FBI Agent Williams), Sarah Shahi (as Wolf's sister, Eva), Tye Alexander (as Todd), Chris Browning (as Schaeffer), Charlie Brumbly (as Charles Grisby); Kelly Noonan (as Hazel), James Harvey Ward (as Billy), and a host of others.
This film is about the value of . . . life . . . and principles. Simply put, you either "live" your life with intrinsic values and principles or you don't.
Values and principles? In the wake of genocide, oppression, discrimination, and the incarceration of Native American people by the United States government that began in 1775 and continues 239 years later to this very day, we really shouldn't be surprised to see yet another film detail how the social and economic status of sovereign Native American tribes has not progressed. In fact, perhaps the real difference between Native American people and Black people, is that White people outright killed millions and million of Native American people to literally steal/take their land; conversely, White people made slaves of Black people to toil the land stolen from Native Americans, or killed Blacks who refused. Keep in mind, on July 4, 1776 while White people were actively killing Native Americans and actively enslaving Black people, White people wrote a "Declaration of Independence" that said the following:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,
that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Maybe you can ignore the historical and political backstory to this film, but you really shouldn't, because more than anything else, the aforementioned is the context for what ultimately happened in the film. What happened? In the wake of his mother being raped and killed by a White man, and seeing his mother's murderer set free by White-man's justice, "The Road to Paloma" is a story about a man (Wolf) who essentially followed another principle of White man's biblical justice, "an eye for an eye." Wolf killed the man who raped and murdered his mother. Of course, the FBI could care less, and sent FBI Agent Williams to capture or kill Wolf. As far as FBI agents go, Lance Henriksen (always in top acting form), as FBI Agent Kelly, was particularly "politically correct" to avoid any ethnic issues in discussing and assigning the capture of Wolf to FBI Agent Williams. Conversely, Williams was clearly only about the business of capturing Wolf, and without regard to whom he might hurt in the process.
Even though Wolf knew he was being pursued by the FBI, Wolf continued to live his existence openly, freely, and the atmosphere of this film doesn't compress Wolf's life existence into a traditional Hollywood police chase. Wolf has friends, family, and relationships. He helps others, and shows his passion. Because this is Momoa's directorial debut some might think casting his wife, Lisa Bonet, as his love interest is gratuitous, but this is not true because, frankly, Bonet's naturally demure presence made her "right" for the part.
Wes Studi, as Wolf's father, Numay, was noticeably underused in this film. Film doesn't sufficiently address why Numay failed to seek vengeance to his wife's murder, or why Numay and Wolf didn't join forces, which would have given the film more depth by sharing life experiences between two generations. Given the fact that sovereign tribes continue to lose their history, language and culture, this should be an important issue. If cast as Wolf's father, former actor and Oglala Lakota activist Russell Means (November 10, 1939 – October 22, 2012) would have surely wanted a re-write for his character to avenge the death of his wife.
Some might find the ending of this film . . . disappointing. On the contrary, again, this film is about the value of . . . life . . . and principles. You either "live" your life with intrinsic values and principles or you don't. However, the cliché, "The only good Indian is a dead Indian" is problematic with so many films that involve Native Americans, including this film. The greater value of sovereign Native American people remains undiscovered in Hollywood, as is their Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness throughout all of America.
Film is atmospheric in its direction by Jason Momoa, and has a nicely paced running length of 91 minutes. Film editing by Jennifer Tiexiera compliments the atmosphere established by the director, which is beautifully coupled with cinematography by Brian Andrew Mendoza.
Recommendation: This is a home video release. Buy this film; you'll enjoy it!