Saturday, February 24, 2018

Saved!

Man, who knew Mandy Moore could be a figure of terror?

Saved! (2004) takes satirical aim at fundamental, evangelical Christian high schools and goes after the hypocritical, judgmental, and holier-than-thou people it finds there. Yet, beneath its cynical exterior, the movie has a heart and demonstrates affection toward its characters. No one is beyond forgiveness, not even the worst Christianity has to offer.

Mary (Jena Malone) describes herself as Born-Again all her life, having been "saved" when she was 3. Entering her senior year at American Eagle Christian High School, she thinks she has everything figured out until her boyfriend Dean (Chad Faust) drops a bombshell: he thinks he's gay.

Obviously, that's a big no-no, but after a vision of Jesus in a swimming pool, Mary decides to take drastic action. She has sex with Dean. Unfortunately, Dean's parents find his stash of gay porn and send him away to a halfway house to be "cured," and Mary learns she's pregnant. Confused, alone, she grows alienated from her familiar life at school, drawing the ire of her best friend Hillary Faye (Moore), who does not take kindly to anyone straying from the faith.

The movie proceeds as a coming of age story for Mary as she goes through the school year. She begins the movie rigid in her beliefs but confused by inherent contradictions and hypocrisies she experiences. She wants to do the right thing, but doing what she thought was right is what got her in her predicament. By the end, while her faith remains, she becomes more tolerant and understanding of other beliefs and behaviors, big on love, not exclusion, and the people around her become better, too.

There are a number of subplots and other characters. Mary's widowed mother Lillian (Mary-Louise Parker) is devout but clearly has the hots for the principal, Pastor Skip (Martin Donovon). Pastor Skip's son Patrick (Patrick Fugit), a nice guy returning from missionary work overseas, has a crush on Mary, but she, feeling shamed about her condition, pushes him away.

Mary falls in with two outsiders at school as her pregnancy develops. Since she cannot confide in her mother or other friends, they become her supporters: Roland (Macaulay Culkin), Hillary Fay's paraplegic brother who bluntly states he's not a Christian, and Cassandra (Eva Amurri), the only Jewish student at American Eagle and who revels in being the wild rebel at school.

Cassandra and Roland become an item early on. She doesn't treat him with condescending pity or like a burden; he appreciates her for who she is. Plus, they both enjoy enraging Hillary Fay, who, because of her self-righteous, self-centeredness, is pretty easy to rile up.

Saved! mixes comedy with teen drama. I don't know if director Brian Dannelly or his co-screenwriter Michael Urban went to a Christian school, but the details seem plausible. On the first day of school, Pastor Skip holds a pep rally that resembles a Joel Osteen service, and Cassandra spoils the event by pretending to speak in tongues. What's she's actually saying is a little more crude. She delights in being outrageous, but she and Roland also demonstrate more thoughtfulness and caring toward Mary than almost anyone else.

At another point, Hillary Fay and her gang try to perform an exorcism on Mary when they see her stray. The inclusion of the iconic Mike Oldfield theme is a nice touch. It's funny, even when Hillary Fay pelts Mary with a Bible (the symbolism is strong with this scene). Then, it becomes awesome when Mary tosses the Bible back. "This is not a weapon."

It leads to, all things considered, a rather touching and heartwarming ending. Lessons are learned, loving bonds are formed, and differences are celebrated and embraced, not condemned.

"Why would God make us so different if he wanted us to be the same?"

Friday, February 23, 2018

Stardust

I first saw Stardust (2007) in college. I remembered three things about it: Robert De Niro as a cross-dressing pirate captain, Robert De Niro as a cross-dressing pirate captain, and oh yeah, Robert De Niro as a cross-dressing pirate captain.

OK, I remembered more than that, but you got to admit: that's probably the most memorable part of the movie.

I also confess, when I saw Stardust for the first time, I was in what I consider my "movie snob" phase, the time when I had to look down my nose at everything new and popular and find fault with it. In retrospect, I acted like a jackass toward the people I saw it with. If any of you are reading this, I'm sorry.

Based on the novel by Neil Gaiman, Stardust plays like an update of The Princess Bride: adventure, fantasy, pirates, magic, true love, miracles. It also has a darker streak of humor and a stronger emphasis on the fantastical. The main storyline, narrated by Ian McKellen, unfolds more or less straight, but the characters have quirks that make them funny and unpredictable. It's whimsical yet cynical, a fairy tale with a modern edge.

To win the hand of the lady he loves, young Tristan Thorn (Charlie Cox) sets out to recover a falling star, crossing through a hole in the wall outside his town of, well, Wall, entering the magical kingdom of Stormhold. He finds the star, shocked to discover it's a beautiful young woman, Yvaine (Claire Danes).

Tristan becomes her protector against dark forces. Among them: a trio of witches led by Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer). They desire Yvaine's heart. Eating it will allow them to regain their youth and beauty.

Also on the lookout for Yvaine and the gem necklace she carries are the sons of the dead King of Stormhold (Peter O'Toole in a cameo). Whoever finds and restores the gem will be decreed the new king, assuming any of the sons are left alive to claim it. They have a nasty habit of killing each other, but the ghosts of the dead princes don't seem to mind. They're less bothered by eternal torment and more annoyed they're out of the running. They provide running commentary on all they witness.

That's the condensed summary. If there's anything that hurts Stardust, it would be all the setup and exposition. We have a lot of ground to cover before everything takes off, which slows the movie down when a snappier pace might have worked better.

No matter. Stardust remains a lot of fun. Even though it deals with kings, witches, true love, and other fairy tale elements, it's not a children's movie, what between the heart-devouring and fratricide. Not mention all the sex references (Tristan is the produce of a one-night stand between his father an Englishman named Dunstan and a princess held captive by a witch).

Perhaps it's best enjoyed by adults who grew up on fantasy, are still fond of it, and can appreciate the movie's sense of humor, which ranges from dark to outrageous to silly. Somehow, the movie combines that attitude with a rather sweet romance, wondrous fantasy, and exciting adventure, sometimes all at once.

Consider Captain Shakespeare (De Niro), the pirate captain. He and his men sail the skies (yes, the skies), harvesting lightning. He acts tough and scary, but secretly, he dresses in drag and dances around in his private quarters. He also helps out Tristan and Yvaine from a tight spot and gives Tristan some parting words of advice he would be wise to remember.

Sometimes, true love is right in front of your face.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Lost in Translation

If you were disappointed that Her only saw fit to include Scarlett Johansson's voice, do I have good news for you. In Lost in Translation (2003), not only does she appear in person, she spends a good deal of her screen time in her underwear. I know how important that is to some of you.

Granted, it's not usually presented in what I consider erotic fashion. It's more subdued and casual, highlighting her vulnerability and loneliness more than it is presenting her as a sex object. She's a beautiful young woman to be sure, but Lost in Translation goes beyond that to reveal the person her character is.

A lot of people I know don't care for this Sofia Coppola-directed effort, which finds Bill Murray jettisoning the comfort of his familiar comic persona for something more serious. There are still plenty of laughs, but they are low key and not especially outrageous as we would expect from the actor of Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day. Plus, there's a buried sadness to his character; he makes us laugh but does not seem to enjoy it himself.

He's still the deadpan, sardonic fellow we've grown to love over the years, but the world around him is more distant, unfamiliar, and he doesn't feel too comfortable or welcome in it anymore. He feels lost and adrift. It opens the movie for serious talks about life, love, marriage, children, happiness.

Murray plays Bob Harris, and Johansson plays Charlotte. They're both visiting Japan. He's a has-been movie star filming a commercial. She joined her photographer husband of two years John (Giovanni Ribisi) when he travelled for a job.

They're both lonely and unhappy and not just because they're both far away from home in a strange country where they don't speak the language, although that doesn't help. He's grown distant from his wife, who sends him emergency faxes asking which color carpet they should use, and is experiencing a mid-life crisis. She feels neglected by John and unsure of her future and marriage. They meet, and over the course of a few days and nights, they connect, they bond, they develop something that possibly could be love as they take in what Tokyo has to offer.

Bittersweet. That's the best adjective I can think of to describe Lost in Translation. When they're together, Bob and Charlotte have a great time. They let their guard down. They divulge their hopes, dreams, fears, hangups. They sing karaoke. They hit the bars. They run carefree through the streets. Somehow, Japan, which had seemed so disorienting and distant to these outsiders, feels like a much better place when they can explore it together.

But it won't last forever, at least it probably won't. They're still married to other people. They still only just met. There is an implied assumption on both ends that the relationship will end when it comes time to leave Japan.

Lost in Translation was filmed in Japan, and it has an authentic flavor as a result. Coppola uses a lot of handheld cameras and point of view shots that at times suggest a documentary. The country might be far removed from what Americans are used to, and it can be overwhelming, but it has its charms and character. It looks like a cool place to soak in. Maybe when you're far from home, you learn what you're really like.

There's humor in the culture clash, most often because Bob and Charlotte don't speak Japanese. The scene in which Bob receives badly translated direction on the set of his commercial is a riot. We don't have subtitles to tell us what's really being said, but the point gets across.

Coppola does not construct Lost in Translation with a plot from point A to point B. It's more of a collection of little episodes and vignettes. Some might say it meanders and does nothing. I say it's about two people with a lot of time on their hands in a place far away from their normal responsibilities.

Their story is told not through grand actions or melodramatics but the little details, the small gestures, and the dialogue that reveals so much without stereotypical declarations and promises. It's compelling enough to see how they interact with each other and the world around them. Words can be misheard or mistranslated, and sometimes, a simple glance can say everything.

Interstellar

Strange. Very strange indeed.

Not the movie. I'd attach many adjectives to Interstellar (2014) but not strange, at least not as a whole.

I watched Interstellar for the first time just a few days ago on Valentine's Day (I know. I'm a fool for not seeing it in theaters. If ever a picture was designed for the big screen, this is one.), and when it ended, I was at a loss. I had no idea how I felt or what I wanted to say about the movie.

I could admire the technical qualities, no doubt. The special effects, the production design, the sound work, the editing and cinematography, etc. all superlative. Stunning even. If I didn't know better, I'd say it looked like director Christopher Nolan had really taken his cast and crew to outer space, distant galaxies, and hostile planets. The representations are that convincing.

But I felt torn. At times, I felt lost, overwhelmed by the scientific explanations, confused about why certain events unfolded the way they did, moved by some parts, and frustrated by others, and I wondered: did I like the movie?

Originally, I gave myself a couple of days to process the movie, let my mind absorb before trying to formulate my thoughts. It wasn't enough. I had to watch it again. It wouldn't feel right otherwise.

So, I here I sit at the keyboard, having just finished my second viewing of Interstellar. It certainly plays better the second time through. I followed more of the explanation betters, had a better grasp of the characters, and some of the things that bothered me before, well, either they grew on me or I at least had a better grasp of why they were done the way they were.

Overall, Interstellar is a near-masterpiece. Nolan aims for the moon, the stars, and beyond space and time. He stumbles in a few places, but his ambition and vision can't be faulted. In a movie filled with crash courses on gravitational relativity, quantum mechanics, wormholes, and blackholes, Interstellar is really about what makes us human: love and the need and desire to connect with the people we love.

The story takes place in the not too distant future. Matthew McConaughey plays Joseph "Coop" Cooper, a widower and former NASA pilot who never reached space and now works as a farmer, as do most people. Food scarcity is a big concern because blight has eliminated many crops, dust clouds force people to seek shelter, the military is apparently disbanded, and the public at-large doesn't care much for science and engineering. In a telling moment, Coop's daughter's school gives out "corrected" textbooks that describe the moon landing as a hoax to bankrupt the Soviets.

Coop's daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) shares his scientific interests, and he encourages it, proud it puts her at odds with the school that pushes most children, including his son Tom (Timothee Chalamant), toward agriculture.

"We used to gaze up at the sky and wonder about our place in the universe," Coop tells his father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow). "Now we look down and worry about our place in the dirt."

Murph thinks a ghost lives in there house, and while Coop doesn't believe in ghosts, he encourages her to investigate it scientifically. Soon, he realizes there is some sort of gravitation anomaly in the house, and Murph and Coop learn it has left binary coordinates to some unknown location. They follow them and stumble upon a top secret NASA base, lead by Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter Dr. Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway). They have bad news.

Earth is dying. Soon, corn, the last viable crop, will be eliminated by the blight, and as Prof. Brand explains, "The last to starve will be the first to suffocate."

But there is hope: a wormhole by Saturn. It leads to another galaxy where there are potentially habitable planets humanity could evacuate to. A dozen astronauts have already been dispatched to investigate. Who built the wormhole? No idea, but apparently, they're the same beings who led Coop to the base.

The elder Brand wants Coop to pilot the last rocket and find a new home for the species. Coop reluctantly agrees, knowing it will mean years if not decades away from Murph and Tom. Tom takes it about as well as can be expected, but Murph is angry, refusing to say goodbye.

This character background comprises the about the first forty minutes of the movie's nearly two-hour-and-fifty-minute running length. The rest of the movie involves Coop and Dr. Brand's voyage to save humanity, and indeed, enough time passes to the point Murph grows up to become a scientist herself, played by Jessica Chastain, working with Professor Brand to solve Plan A, an unsolved equation that will enable a mass evacuation of Earth. If Plan A fails, Plan B involves establishing a colony using frozen embryos on Coop's ship, which means leaving the people still on Earth to die.

That is probably the longest plot summary I've ever done on the blog. I usually try to condense those as much as possible, but in this case, I feel it was necessary, and if you are watching the movie for the first time, it may help to know as much background as possible. In my first viewing, I think I was overwhelmed by all the plot threads, characters, conflicts, etc. to the point I couldn't let myself be absorbed by the drama. With the second go around, I stopped playing catch-up and could let myself be swept away.

How accurate the science of Interstellar is, I don't know. It's sounds fascinating and plausible, and the movie builds action and tension from such ideas as relative time. Coop's crew lands on a planet in which one hour there equals seven years earth time. They better work fast, even before a massive tidal wave threatens to drown them.

But as cool as the science is, it's the human drama that drives Interstellar. Coop loves his children. He will do anything for them. Saving the world means saving them, which is why he makes the painful the decision to leave them. His entire motivation is to find a new home for humanity and return in time to save Murph and Tom, even if they will age faster than him.

He bears a heavy price for it. This is the kind of thing that could be schmaltzy, that could tip over the line from sentimental to cheesy, but Nolan, as usual, has chosen his cast well, actors and actresses capable of conveying the heart beating within the exposition and philosophical ramblings.

If there is a better performance by Matthew McConaughey than when he breaks down and cries as he watches more than twenty years worth of videos from his children, describing all the moments he missed and will never get back, or later when he literally looks on his past and yells at himself to stay with his children, I have not seen it. He sees his last moment with Coop, when he tried to say goodbye to her on good terms, and his shame, anger, regret, and sadness are on full display.

Stuff like that could have been done in passing flashbacks, but they would have been hokey that way. We'd be wondering why they even bothered to include them. This way, they're fully fleshed out, and they mean something when we call back to them.

We also get the emotional story from Murph's point of view. She and her father were close, and she feels abandoned by him (he never told he was leaving to save the world), but she hopes and believes he will return, even though she cannot bring herself to send him messages the way Tom does. When she learns the truth about Plans A and B, she feels betrayed, but this steels her resolve further to save the world.

But by the end, when the truth comes out, their emotional connection remains. Across the span of space and time, their love remains strong. Even though they are separated by countless light-years and decades, when it looks like they will never see each other again, they still connect.

Love is a force in the universe as strong as time and gravity.

Monday, February 12, 2018

10 Things I Hate About You

I want an entire TV show starring Allison Janney as a high school guidance counselor who hates the students and writes erotic novels. Include Daryl Mitchell as the smack-talking English teacher, and it's gold.

I just realized: 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) is the second Joseph Gordon-Levitt movie I've seen set in a modern high school that draws heavily on stories and styles from the past. The other movie is Brick. Yeah, this one's a little different.

10 Things I Hate About You takes its inspiration from a Shakespeare comedy, The Taming of the Shrew. In the play, would-be suitors for the fair Bianca are disappointed to learn her father has forbidden her from marrying until her older sister, Katherina, the titular "shrew," finds a husband. So, the suitors recruit Petruchio to woo and "tame" Katherina, so they can go after Bianca.

Here, the "shrew" is Kat, played by Julia Stiles, and described in the modern lingo as a "heinous bitch." Petruchio is Patrick, a bad boy played by Heath Ledger. Bianca is still Bianca, played by Alex "not the football player" Mack herself, Larisa Oleynik, and Gordon-Levitt is Cameron, the new guy on campus with eyes for Bianca, who can't date until Kat does.

If you find implausible the idea that a dad in the 90s could enact such an chauvinistic rule on his teenage daughters, consider that the dad is played by Larry Miller. There, problem solved.

10 Things I Hate About You comes packed with other Shakespeare references. The movie is set at Padua High School. Bianca and Katherine has the surname Strattford, and Patrick's last name in Verona, which is where Petruchio is from. A student pines over Shakespeare's genius and is won over by the guy who dresses up as him. The English teacher reads Shakespeare passages like they were rap lyrics and assigns his class to rewrite a classic sonnet. Even the idea of Cameron using tutoring as an excuse to get close to Bianca comes from the text.

You can't accuse the filmmakers of not citing their sources.

The film is very much of the 90s, from the soundtrack to the absence of cellphones and computers to the fashion to ... the soundtrack. It's a very 90s collection of music (plus one Joan Jett song and a cover of Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me"). You decide whether that's a feature or a bug.

The most iconic moment of the movie is when Heath Ledger serenades Julia Stiles with a rendition of "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" in the soccer bleachers. It's a great moment, especially when the marching band joins in. Unlikely? Probably, but if anyone could pull it off, it would be Heath Ledger. I'd melt for him.

The movie also improves on a controversial element of the original play. In the play, Petruchio tames Kate by completely dominating her, keeping her from eating, and changing her into a docile, obedient wife who gives a closing speech about how important it is to always obey husbands. You can imagine how that would fly today.

Here, both Kat and Patrick change for the better without sacrificing their dignity or independence. She learns to be less hostile (although the film gives her a convincing reason why she is the way she is), and he wins her over by being attentive, charming, and learning her interests. He also does not take advantage of her when she's drunk.

Amazing that that works, don't ya think? 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Shape of Water

There's a quote attributed to Stuart Gordon, director of Re-Animator, about how in all those old horror movies, you'd see the monster carry the heroine off into the swamp, but you'd never get to see what he planned to do. That desire to depict what the monster had mind partly served as the inspiration for the infamous head scene in his Lovecraft adaptation.

Director Guillermo del Toro takes a similar philosophy in a different direction in The Shape of Water (2017), which he co-wrote with Vanessa Taylor. His heroine, the mute Elisa (Sally Hawkins), and his slimy creature, referred to as the Asset (Doug Jones, naturally), indeed go all the way, a couple of times, and it's played as sweet and romantic instead of disgusting and creepy.

You may be wondering how a human woman and a mutant fish-man can engage in coitus. Don't worry. Elisa helpfully explains the process, through sign language and other hand gestures, to her best friend and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer), in a conversation that runs the gamut from stunned incredulity to curiosity to unwavering support. We should all have friends as cool and understanding as Zelda.

Del Toro said in interviews The Creature from the Black Lagoon was a childhood favorite of his, but he was always saddened that the creature and the girl did not end up together. The Shape of Water was his way fixing that problem. Francois Truffaut would approve.

Despite the presence of a slimy, scaly inhuman "monster," The Shape of Water is not a horror movie. There aren't scares in the sense of a boogeyman leaping out of the shadows, although a nasty government agent played by Michael Shannon gives us a truly monstrous but human villain, and there moments of violence that will make audiences squirm.

No, The Shape of Water is a tender love story about outsiders who find happiness with each other. If Superman made you believe a man could fly, The Shape of Water will make you believe a woman and an amphibious humanoid can fall in love.

The movie takes place during the 1950s. The Cold War is a hot topic. Elisa works as a custodian at a government facility where the Asset is kept and tortured. That's where they meet and bond, and it's sweet. She never demonstrates fear, only curiosity, and her muteness gives her an advantage over the scientists. She's used to communicating nonverbally, and she treats the creature with kindness.

When she learns the government plans to vivisect the Asset, she becomes determined to break him out. Besides Zelda, she receives help from her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins), a gay advertisement artist struggling to find work because would-be employers don't like his sexual orientation.

They receive unexpected assistance from a surprising source: Dr. Robert Hofstettler (Michael Stuhlbarg), one of the scientists and really a Soviet spy named Dimitri. When ordered by his superiors to kill the creature lest the Americans find some use for it, Dimitri defies them. He may be a dedicated Communist, but he's first and foremost a scientist, and he can't bring himself to destroy an awe-inspiring discovery when there's so much left to learn.

Had this movie been made in the 1950s, no doubt Dimitri would have been a villain, and Elisa would have ended up with the squared-jawed Colonel Strickland (Shannon), the guy who captured the Asset in South America. Strickland has the markings of a successful American of the period: wife, two kids, nice home, new car (that leads to a priceless moment during the escape attempt), and he looks good in a business suit.

Yet, he's a creep, sexually harassing Elisa because he likes silent women, and he's an ungrateful douchebag to boot; early on, the Asset bites his fingers off. Elisa and Zelda find them and place them in a lunch bag; he complains they got mustard on his digits. He grows increasingly deranged over the course of the film.

The Shape of Water covers a lot of ground. It's romantic, dramatic, funny, and thrilling. It's also something of a love letter to cinema and not just because the premise borrows from Creature from the Black Lagoon. Elisa lives above a movie theatre, which attracts the interest of the Asset. At a key emotional moment, Elisa, faced with being separated from her love forever, imagines being able to sing to and dance with him, and the scene adopts a black-and-white visual scheme that mimics one of those classic Hollywood moments.

I know some folks have complained about that scene because it feels kind of random and cornball, but as a visualization of her longing, it's beautiful. Del Toro could have just shown her sitting at the table with a sad look on her face, or he could have done what he did: romanticize the moment, illustrate the joy she feels with him, and capture the impending heartbreak.

It's an unexpected touch in a movie comprised of moments that catch you off guard with charm. I don't watch a del Toro movie for the expected. His work is modern fantasy, and why shouldn't his characters be allowed to indulge occasionally when the world around them is so dark and threatening?

Hostiles

What happens when a decorated, hard-bitten Indian fighter in the U.S Cavalry is charged with escorting the Apache chief who many years ago killed several of his friends in battle? The chief who after spending years in Army custody is now dying and being allowed to return to his homeland to die in peace?

That is the setup for Hostiles (2017), a sad, harrowing Western about men who have spent their lives devoted to violence now being forced to confront what it's done to them. Was it worth it? Do they recognize the country they fought for? Do they still recognize themselves?

Christian Bale plays Captain Joseph Blocker, the one charged with leading Chief Yellow Hawk, played by Wes Studi, to Montana in 1892. Yellow Hawk, dying of cancer, is accompanied by his family, including his son Black Hawk (Adam Beach). Blocker, on his final assignment before leaving the military, resents the order, only following it after being threatened with a court martial by his superior officer (Stephen Lang).

The other central character is Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike). When the film opens, we witness her entire family - husband, two young daughters, infant son - massacred and her home burned by renegade Comanches. Blocker's detachment find her in the ruins of her home, still clutching her baby, telling the men to be quiet because her children are sleeping.

Almost everyone in Hostiles is defined by their relationship to violence. Blocker, the career soldier, has spent his life witnessing and committing it. He's not proud of all he's done, but he saw it as necessary in a fight for survival against the "savages." As he exits the military, he faces an uncertain future.

He better be careful because there are two examples he should not follow, one a current comrade, the other a former. His righthand man is Sgt. Thomas Metz (Rory Cochrane), a former Confederate who killed his first man at 14. He's flat out exhausted, worn down by years of fighting, and though the term wasn't coined yet (nor was the condition recognized), he's clearly suffering some form of PTSD. Even though he advises the rookie West Point grad Kidder (Jesse Plemons) otherwise, Metz lets the guilt for what he's done get to him, and it drives him to despair.

Later on, Blocker agrees to transport a prisoner back to his base to get hung: Sgt. Charles Wills (Ben Foster), who fought with Blocker years before and claims he never did anything no one else hadn't done. He sees Blocker transporting Yellow Hawk home to die peacefully and feels betrayed by Blocker, says he dishonors all the men who died under him. That Wills is ax crazy goes without saying.

Ultimately, Hostiles, despite its scenes of graphic violence and brutal cruelty, is a story of redemption, forgiveness, and understanding. There remains of a sliver of hope, no matter how slim. Blocker begins his mission openly antagonistic toward Yellow Hawk, trying to goad him into an excuse to kill him on the spot and keeping him and Black Hawk in chains.

Yellow Hawk, despite what we're told he's done, never demonstrates any hostility or anger toward Blocker or the others. As he explains, he does not fear death, and he offers assistance and advice when he sees fit, even when it is not welcomed. His family, knowing what Rosalie has gone through, offer her comfort and admire the strength of her spirit.

For her part, Rosalie goes from fearful of the Natives to accepting and even loving them as family. It doesn't feel forced or phony; it's gradual, subtle. The same goes for Blocker. He begins to rely on the Natives when forced by circumstance and the depletion of his unit, but he too develops respect and friendship for his former enemies.

By film's end, most of the characters are dead, cut down unexpectedly and painfully. Those left behind, while marked by all they've experienced, have discovered something else worth holding on to. Instead of despair, they have found hope.