May 18, 2012

Clichés abound in Crooked Arrows

The Mighty Ducks on Grass, With Spirit Animals

Crooked Arrows, the plucky underdog Native American lacrosse movie I never knew I wanted.

By John Swansburg
The most famous game of lacrosse took place on June 4, 1763 at Fort Michilimackinac, in what is now Northern Michigan. British forces had recently taken command of the fort, one of the spoils of their victory in the French and Indian War. June 4 was King George III's birthday, and to mark the occasion, a group of Sauk and Ojibwa Indians offered to stage an exhibition of the game they called baggatiway. By all accounts, the British garrison was captivated by the anarchic, fast-paced play—at least until the Indians dropped their sticks, took up arms, butchered the spectators, and captured the fort. Turned out they were still partial to the French.

Crooked Arrows, the new feature film from director Steve Rash, tells the story of another group of Native American lacrosse players at odds with their white neighbors. The stakes here are a bit lower, though, and the only real violence is perpetrated against the fundamentals of good filmmaking. Working with a manifestly small budget, Rash has set out to bestow a Mighty Ducks-style sports movie on this proud and ancient game. The result is an amateurish, highly predictable film overstuffed with Native American mumbo jumbo. And yet such is the durability of the sports movie formula—and such is the good-natured pluck of this movie—that I found myself considering a fist-pump when, during the Arrows’ improbable run through the playoffs, the weakest of the team’s midfielders (his spirit animal is the meek but crafty squirrel) scored a pivotal goal. I didn’t actually pump my fist, as I was still recovering from a training montage set to Chumbawumba’s “Tubthumping.” But I felt a twinge.
The so-called "mumbo jumbo":The transformation of the Crooked Arrows from a perennial doormat into a preppy-trouncing powerhouse is the silliest but also the most enjoyable stretch of the movie. No cliché of Native American life goes unexplored. The players run through the forest, practicing their dodges on trees, as their ancestors did. They sprint up a craggy mountain where they commune with a tribal elder who tells them that even crooked arrows can find their way, if they stay true to their path (whatever that means). They visit a sweat lodge, where each player has a vision of his spirit animal and receives an amulet bearing that creature’s likeness. And in my favorite turn, Coach Logan decides to translate the names of the team’s plays into Sunaquat, likening the effort to the work of the Navajo Code Talkers, who helped encrypt secret messages for the U.S. Marines during World War II. Alas for Logan, his command of Sunaquat is rusty after all those years at the casino: Attempting to describe a “V-cut,” he actually calls it a “vagina dodge,” to the adolescent glee of his players.Crooked Arrows Movie Review

By Karen Benardello‘Crooked Arrows’ is a touching tribute to the Native American culture, and the pride they take in having created lacrosse. Hiring Native Americans who actually played the sport in real life helped showcase the hard work the tribes put into playing the game. Unfortunately, the character of Joe and his reluctance to coach the team, and his gradual change in attitude and devotion to the sport, is full of cliches commonly found in many sports films. Rash made an admirable attempt to create a movie showing that everyone loves playing sports, no matter what their ethnicity, but he does little to create unique conflicts or struggles.

Technical: B
Acting: B-
Story: B-
Overall: B-
Comment:  The whole "spirit animal in the sweat lodge" scene sounds horribly stereotypical. I'm not sure a bit like that has ever happened in real life.

For more on Crooked Arrows, see Onondagas Support Crooked Arrows and Crooked Arrows Announces Lacrosse Team.

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