I missed Wild Indian at Sundance earlier this year, and it turns out this should have been a sign to simply skip it. The thriller or revenge element is barely there, instead choosing to focus on a despicable character that I hated to watch. If you have a story arc with a huge time leap, there had better be significant emotional depth and character growth. Wild Indian has neither—it opts to double down on the central character, while mistaking audience disgust for general interest.
Wild Indian is set in two different time periods: the 1980s and 2019. As children, young Makwa (Phoenix Wilson), a bullied outsider whose own parents are mean drunks, and Ted-O (Julian Gopal), a fellow reservation classmate, are the best of friends. When Ted-O brings his father’s gun into the mix, Makwa takes out his frustrations on an innocent young boy who has a crush on the girl he likes, and whom seems to have a more perfect life. The two are forced into covering up a murder, which changes their lives irrevocably.
The tragedy of their circumstances causes a role reversal in the two men: one becomes lost and delinquent, while the other gains confidence and figures out how to hide his tendencies. Makwa goes by Michael (Michael Greyeyes) in 2019, works at a law firm, has a wife and baby, and pays to choke strippers in his spare time. Ted-O (Chaske Spencer) is fresh out of a 10-year prison stint, complete with face tattoos. The only thing on his mind is to make amends—the death has haunted him for years. There is a message here about the effects of trauma and ghosts of one’s past coming back to haunt them, but the script is far too dark to deliver satisfying conclusions to any of its plotlines. Sparse commentary on the difficulty of past convicts to get jobs is only dabbled upon briefly before being completely brushed aside.
Wild Indian is successful in its searing examination of cultural norms, as told from the personal perspective of writer/director Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr.; less successful is nearly everything else. Methodical observations like “the nature of a human being is to suffer without sacrifice,” as well as the struggle to embrace a single idea narratively to its fullest extent remain frustrating throughout. Jesse Eisenberg pops in for a useless one minute worth of screentime, and that is far from being the only unnecessary padding. A short film may have been a better avenue to explore this concept, as there is simply not enough there to sustain a full length movie, without following up on a minimal amount of its ideas. The darkness of the ending would be appreciated more if it felt earned; Wild Indian seems to slap its audience in the face and say yep, all people are bad, and they will all get away with it too.
Wild Indian is untamed when it debuts on streaming and in limited release theaters on Friday, September 3rd.