An angry, young Navajo's redemption lies in his own hands
Unfortunately, once he sat down at the keyboard, a lifetime of film clichés and stereotypes flowed freely onto the page, along with some mildly embarrassing dialogue. From the Indians having quasi-mystical powers to the oppressive white man's society, the environments the character of Black Cloud (Eddie Spears, "Into the West") is placed into are not likely to be anything new to you. How Spears turns his somewhat one-dimensional character, complete with the angry-young-man attitude and General Custer disgust, into a man worth redeeming and caring about is impressive though, and at least part of that credit must go to Schroder.
Black Cloud's story begins and ends in the boxing ring, as his desire to fight fuels his existence. There's really no goal in sight, except to win his next fight. While these types of "rising up" stories normally abandon their heroes in the world in order to stack the odds against them, Black Cloud has a rather strong support system, including his trainer Bud (Hollywood's go-to Indian, Russell Means (Pocahontas)), his best friend Jimmy (the very likable Nathaniel Arcand (Ginger Snaps Back)) and his girlfriend Sammi (beautiful newcomer Julia Jones.)
That doesn't stop the bad influences in his life, like his drunk father and a despicable cowboy named Eddie (Schroder, in his fourth job on this movie), from leading him down the wrong paths. Because of a family background he is ashamed of and a general hatred of John Wayne's people, Black Cloud is angry and likes to fight. That's a point he makes way too clearly with a cliché line of dialogue, as when a boxing scout asks him how long he's been fighting, he responds, "All my life."
Feelings like that are bound to get a person in trouble, and in Black Cloud's case, it does, putting him in the sights of the local sheriff (country music star Tim McGraw.) The sheriff is easily one of the most confusing characters in the film, as his motivation for any given scene seems to be picked from a hat, without any consistency, apparently there to solely support Black Cloud's opinion of the white man. The only character more artificial is Wayne Knight's morally bankrupt housing coordinator, a villain so obvious he should have had horns and a pitchfork.
Salvation for Black Cloud might be around the corner, in a chance to join the U.S. Olympic boxing team, but there's more than enough complications in Black Cloud's path, including his own bad attitude, to prevent him from succeeding. As is usually the case in such stories, single-mindedness costs Black Cloud much of what he holds dear as he spirals to rock bottom, before being able to "rise up" again.
This film is exceedingly violent, even for a boxing movie, with two brawls outside of the ring that are cringe inducing, one of which that was stunningly cruel in its climax. Schroder filmed the boxing scenes very tight, actually pulling off some innovative shots that didn't merely mine past boxing film techniques, and ended up making them feel more "real." Working with cinematographer Steve Gainer (Bully), he went for non-traditional angles often, and created a visually kinetic film that's enjoyable to watch, with some surprising performances and polished audio and visual editing.
Impressively, both Dolby and DTS 5.1 tracks were included on this DVD, along with a Dolby 2.0 mix. As one might expect, the DTS track is the clear winner. The separation of sound among the surrounds is excellent, while the mix is deep and bold, both in dialogue and music. Several scenes explode in sound, with some very detailed mixing and nicely varied use of audio effects. The Dolby track is strong, but lacking in the bass that makes the DTS so good, while the 2.0 track is not acceptable in comparison due to its lack of depth.
The track starts off with way too much apple polishing, including a lengthy rundown of Gambina's resume, before getting into the actual behind-the-scenes info. Schroder is wearing his director's hat during the commentary, acting as an unofficial moderator, prodding his mic-mates to share. There could be more screen-specific aspects to the commentary, but it's generally rather conversational and easy-going.
The film's theatrical trailer is also included, in anamorphic widescreen with a Dolby 5.1 mix. This preview sells the movie quite well, without giving away too much. Several other New Line trailers are also included, seemingly chosen to match the themes of Black Cloud.
The Bottom Line