Writer/director James R. Gorrie's The Indian (2007) is a small film that aims for a one two punch of tearjerker territory- a person hoping for atonement (of the usual father & son dynamic) and the terminal illness flick.
Skip (Sal Landi) is a sleazy, middle-aged, self-absorbed producer, who through years of boozing and drugging has contracted Hepatis C and reduced his liver to a husk. In order to live, he needs a partial liver transplant from a blood relative, and it turns out his only match is probably Danny (Matt Dallas), the troubled, bedheaded, resentful son he abandoned and pawned off on his sister after Danny's mother died in a car accident.
Deadbeat daddy gets his opportunity to insinuate himself in Danny's life when his sister must go out of town for work and Skip ponies up the money to get Danny out of trouble for an attempted breaking an entering charge. While they live together, Skip and Danny, with the aide of a young biker chick Shelby (G4's Alison Haislip), begin restoring an old Indian motorcycle that was gathering dust in the family shack. Skip goes from trying to connive his way into getting Danny to help him to actually paying honest penance for his years of neglect.
I wasn't expecting much out of The Indian. I'm not one who is easily swayed by usual dramatic fare, especially when it comes to terminal disease movies. I've seen many a person I was close to deal with severe health problems and its rarely as cinema likes to paint. Producers fear making movies where people face their dwindling mortality with fear, cowardice, or unavoidable, conscience-blurring pain. And, when they do, it is only briefly, always with some sugar-coated, life-affirming hook at the end to make it go down better. Such is the case with The Indian, where there is no doubt things are going to be somewhat resolved with Skip and Danny finding common ground and understanding, instead of, say, Danny shrugging Skip off by saying, "I'm glad you're dying, fucker!" and the film then ending with the emotionally scarred son drunkenly urinating on his fathers grave.
The actors all do their best with pretty rote material and standard characters: the distant, change of heart father, the bitter, puppy-dog faced son, the ummmm.... girl. These three key characters each have confessional scenes and at least one big moment to cry out in frustration. While they don't transcend these cliches, they at least get through them gamely, hitting a nice middle-ground without seeming bored or overly melodramatic. The direction is a little spotty, predictable setups, but much of this can be forgiven considering the low budget nature of the film and the limited environs where they were filming. But, really what it all boils down to is that story, and I'm just not one inclined to believe the simplified message The Indian is selling, that somehow impending death will spark some great realization in a self-absorbed person or that a few middling conversations and some brief mechanical male bonding makes up for a lifetime of neglect.
The world of DV has really helped the low budget filmmaker. You can get a commercially available cameras that, of course with the right crew and pre/post work, provide a good looking pic at a fraction of the cost and with more ease than 16 and 35 mm private rent-out clunkers. Of course, it is also not without it's source drawbacks, and that is really The Indian's only problem, a muddy bit of contrast here, lesser color and sharpness details there. Still, for this kind of film, E1 offers a serviceable image and decent anamorphic widescreen transfer.
Audio options are 2.0 and 5.1 Surround English language with optional English subtitles. Mix is okay. Again, some slight low budget/indie film source quirks, like the odd bit of muffled post or atmospherically drowned dialogue. Scoring is strong, though the songs often come across a bit too loud and front-centered in the mix.
Supplements include a Trailer, Rehearsal (30:25) and Audition (10:58) footage, Interviews (19:44) and feature length Commentary with writer/director Gorrie and actors Dallas and Haislip.
While I imagine the actors might be mortified, the rehearsal and audition footage is a fairly interesting glimpse of the film in its rough stages. On both the commentary and group interview, the genial trio go off on the usual tangents, most of it very routine, like filming locations, what was shot when, costuming, etc.
It should be noted that all of the bonus material also has English subtitle options. A nice extra bit of effort you don't always see.
I'm going to have to chalk this one up as, "Just not for me." I'd like to believe the ghosts of the past could be exorcised by polishing up a motorcycle and being critically fragile, but I do not. Those looking for average, family friendly tv movie fare will find some good entertainment in The Indian, but while the film is well-paced and performed, the actual story dynamics do not go anywhere special or revelatory. The presentation and extras are decent, making The Indian an okay rental.