Aside from the obvious ecological sermon about the evils of clearcutting forests, this Canadian film about the struggle of Native Americans to preserve their land and their culture warns us to be careful about what we wish for. Lea plays a lawyer who, until he loses, feels pretty good about defending Indians in their struggle to protect their land from the rapacious greed of a paper mill owner (Hogan). Anger and despair threaten to overcome him while on the other side of the fence, the Indians accuse him of just doing a job so that he can make his car payments. Enter Arthur (Greene) a mysterious stranger who kidnaps both the lawyer and the mill owner and takes them on a harrowing forced march across the beautiful Canadian land threatened by clearcutting. Arthur is up to no good. He's a trickster, Coyote to the western plains Indians, and he's the embodiment of Lea's rage and feeling of impotence. To survive, Lea has to learn who Arthur is. For the self-assured and self-satisfied mill owner Hogan, insight is a long shot and it may never come in time. Polish director Bugajski is best known for his film The Interrogation,
a cause célèbre
when it was suppressed by the communist government. Here he also focuses on government oppression and pits it against Native American spiritualism in a very black-and-white struggle. Most of the hard work is done by Greene, who steals all the screen real estate just as he did in Thunderheart, Dances With Wolves
and the wonderful, if little seen, Powwow Highway.
Wry and deadpan, Arthur's offhand comments are cold jokes on humanity. Unfortunately, this modern-day folk tale goes for all the easy buttons. As the champion of logging, the mill owner is stupid and stubborn until Arthur gets hold of him, then he becomes weak and pathetic. To a certain extent the political struggle exists only as a backdrop for the lawyer's internal struggle. He has conjured up Arthur with his inchoate rage. Unfortunately, given the monolithic front of government and greed, we're not given many other paths and little else to wish for. There will be many people who like this film, but very few convinced by it.