Lou Diamond Phillips directs and stars in this tepid mystery, a superficial excavation of Native American culture which enjoyed a brief run on the festival circuit before being released direct to video, largely on the strength of its subject matter.
The improbably named Jesse Rainfeather Goldman (Phillips) is a young emergency room intern living with his adoptive Jewish parents in Beverly Hills. When a strange necklace of feathers and bones arrives, his mother, Leah Goldman (Melinda Dillon), tells Jesse it's a birthday gift from his
biological mom, a Sioux woman he has never known. He follows the postmark to Sioux City, Nebraska, where he learns that his mother, Dawn Rainfeather (Tantou Cardinal, shown in a few mystical flashbacks), died in a recent fire. At the police station, his medical training enables him to spot bullet
holes in morgue photos of the corpse, even though there was no autopsy conducted. This quickly lands him in dutch with a redneck deputy (Gary Farmer), but kindly southern sheriff Drew McDermott (Ralph Waite) promises he'll investigate. Out on the town, Jesse encounters the kind of overt racism he
never experienced in privileged Beverly Hills. Denied a table in a chi-chi restaurant, he's assisted by a young reporter, Allison (Lise Cutter), whose invitation extends well beyond dinner. They return to her apartment, where she informs him that his mother was rumored to be an alcoholic and a
prostitute, and also reveals that her father is Sheriff McDermott. For reasons he can't articulate, Jesse declines her affections.
Snooping for clues, he meets the local medicine man, a relative, and becomes smitten with Jolene (Salli Richardson), a politically astute Native American woman, to whom he must prove himself. When the yahoo deputies hunt him down for sport, frictions escalate with Sheriff McDermott, who seems to
be dragging his feet on the investigation. Jesse's probing unearths a series of family secrets, and he identifies McDermott as his mother's lover, her killer, and his own father. Their final confrontation takes place with both local activist Jolene and daughter Allison looking on.
Phillips may have wanted to challenge Hollywood conventions about Indian half-breeds--in westerns, they're usually mad, destructive, and fated to die in the final reel--but everything is by the numbers in this politically correct whodunit. The notion of Jewish Indians and the brush with incest
(Allison is, after all, Jesse's half-sister) are intriguing wrinkles, but they're quickly smoothed over, and the rest of the proceedings are fairly slow going. Waite brings a begrudging decency and some moral authority to the stock heavy's role; pretty-boy Phillips displays limited range as an
actor and limited potential as a director. (Violence, nudity, sexual situations, substance abuse, profanity.)
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- Released: 1994
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: Lou Diamond Phillips directs and stars in this tepid mystery, a superficial excavation of Native American culture which enjoyed a brief run on the festival circuit before being released direct to video, largely on the strength of its subject matter. The… (more)