November 23, 2014

Indians in Taking Chances

Here's a Native-themed movie I watched a couple of years ago:

Taking ChancesWhen he discovers that an Indian casino is about to be built over the town's historic battlefield, Chase Revere, the self-appointed protector of a small town's rather meager place in American history, joins forces with sexy but dangerous town siren Lucy Shanks to launch an all-out offensive against the project--earning the wrath of the entire town, who believe that the casino will save their decaying local community.Taking Chances (Patriotville)Less concerned with his own bread-and-butter, but more with the town's willingness to easily forget its roots, Chase vigorously opposes the casino. He finds an unlikely ally in town beauty, Lucy (Emmanuelle Chriqui), whom he first meets trying to find her own closure with an absentee dad. Together they begin a signature campaign to stop the impending deal. Town mayor Cleveland Fishback (Rob Corddry) has his hands full with trying to impress the visiting tribe, getting the town board on the same page and placating a business officer for Indian affairs. He doesn't have time to humor Chase & Lucy's efforts and they soon find the town turning against them.

The Indians appear from 0:49 to 1:06 in the trailer.

The Native aspects

As usual with most modern movies, Taking Chances' portrayal of Indians is a mixed bag. I could write a whole essay on the subject, but here are the highlights:

  • The gaming premise is loosely based on reality, but it's mostly false. For starters, Indians don't have any power to buy or take over a historic battlefield. And any town starved for business would promote its history, including the battlefield.

    If necessary, the Indians would find a site elsewhere and coexist with the battlefield. Because two tourist attractions are than one, obviously.

  • The idea of five Indians negotiating personally with the mayor is ridiculous. Indian casinos have been big business for at least 20 years. In reality, each side would employ lawyers, bankers, and other business people to negotiate the hugely complex deal.

  • Chief Samuel Many Bulls--he spews a lot of bull, get it?--utters stereotypical clichés to guilt the mayor into signing an agreement. Mary Born Kicking--she kicks and fights a lot, get it?--counters his nonsense with hard-edged facts and figures.

    I guess the contrast is supposed to be funny, but it's mostly silly and pathetic. Mary is the only one negotiating like an actual Native businesswoman would.

  • The actor playing the chief isn't Native, but a few of the actors are. Having a "sort of Native" cast is about par for the course these days.

  • A hint of the feds

  • The shadowy "business officer for Indian affairs" doesn't do much other than offer vague threats. I don't recall what he said, but things like, "You'd better listen to me and do what I say."

    That's weak, but this is perhaps the only casino-themed movie to recognize the role of federal officials. A tribe would have to take land into trust before it could open a casino, which would require the Bureau of Indian Affairs' approval.

    The screenwriters executed this idea poorly, but at least they had the idea. That's something.

  • The movie ends with a final twist concerning the Indians. I won't spoil it, but it ruins everything that came before. It suggests that everyone dealing with the Indians was an idiot.

    When you're talking about a business deal worth hundreds of millions of dollars, few if any idiots are involved. Any businessperson would do due diligence and prevent this kind of problem from arising. In short, there's no way it could happen--none.

  • Despite these criticisms, Taking Chances is a decent romantic comedy. It's the type you might watch if you came across it accidentally. Or if you wanted to see how movies portray Indians these days, like me. Rob's rating: 7.5 of 10.

    For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.

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