The Dark Wind

  • 1993
  • Movie
  • R
  • Crime, Mystery

Backed by Robert Redford, this much-heralded movie, the first film to be based on popular novelist Tony Hillerman's series of books featuring American Indian policemen Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, is a major disappointment. Recently graduated from New Mexico University, Jim Chee (Lou Diamond Phillips) takes up duties with the Navajo Reservation Police,...read more

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Backed by Robert Redford, this much-heralded movie, the first film to be based on popular novelist Tony Hillerman's series of books featuring American Indian policemen Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, is a major disappointment.

Recently graduated from New Mexico University, Jim Chee (Lou Diamond Phillips) takes up duties with the Navajo Reservation Police, under Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn (Fred Ward), patrolling the arid, remote Navajo/Hopi joint-use lands in Arizona. Chee's counterpart on the Hopi force, Sheriff Cowboy

Dashee (Gary Farmer) has discovered a days-dead, unidentifiable body in the desert. The pair investigate a robbery at the Burnt Water Trading Post, run by Jake West (John Karlen), who suspects Joe Musket, an ex-con Navajo drug peddler. On a nighttime stakeout to catch bootleggers, Jim sees a plane

crash and discovers the bodies of the pilot Pauling and Polanzer, a Houston lawyer loosely connected to drug smuggling. Pauling's widow Gail (Jane Loranger) turns up, with her lawyer Ben Gaines (Blake Clark), as well as two FBI agents, Johnson (Guy Boyd) and Larry (Gary Basaraba), who believe a

local has made off with the suspected drug shipment from the wrecked plane. Johnson and Larry harrass and beat up Jim as their prime suspect.

Taken off the case by Leaphorn, Jim and Cowboy investigate on their own, aided by Gail, who's afraid that Gaines is mixed up with the crooked FBI agents. The two officers find Lomatewa (Neil Kayquotewa), an old man who witnessed the plane being misdirected by lanterns into crashing, and discover

that the culprit is Jake, who's been impersonating both Musket (whom he killed--his body was the one in the film's opening) and Polanzer; using drugs as bait, he's exacting his vengeance against Gaines, whom he believes arranged the killing of his son Chris in jail, where Musket was his cellmate.

(Ironically, it was actually Johnson who was behind Chris's murder.) The finale, set at the eerily desolate Balakai Point, the supposed powerful center of the Dark Wind--in Navajo mysticism, the "evil that causes men to misbehave"--is a midnight shoot-out in which Jake kills Gaines and Larry and

wounds Cowboy, before he and Johnson kill each other. The next day, Leaphorn has Jim back to his boring regular regimen of chasing bootleggers and speeders.

Impossibly top-heavy with such a contrived story, THE DARK WIND has more loose ends than THE BIG SLEEP, but lacks the dazzle to camouflage them. Chief culprits are the screenplay, by Eric Bergren and Neal Jimenez (THE WATERDANCE), which reduces the complex plotting of Hillerman's novel to utter

confusion, and first-time fiction filmmaker Errol Morris, the award-winning documentarian (THE THIN BLUE LINE, A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME), whose elliptical, static camera style is all wrong for this material.

Some of the dense Navajo cultural detail that makes Hillerman's novels so satisfying is captured here, but the mystical elements--Chee is learning the fast-disappearing Old Ways of the Navajo and indeed is already established as Singer of the Blessed Way--so integral to the novel, are botched by

the filmmakers. Lou Diamond Phillips' performance is also problematic; during the film's first half, he acts less like a policeman, however inexperienced than a nervous schoolboy, then suddenly becomes an ace detective. He's also been saddled, perhaps after the fact, with narrating the movie in an

attempt to help fill in the film's gaps.

For his money, co-executive producer Redford has gotten a technically exquisite movie, admirably designed by Ted Bafaloukos, scored by the great Michel Colombier, and photographed by Stefan Czapsky on the spectacularly arid locations on the Indian reservation lands around Tuba City, Arizona, an

area first used by Hollywood for Zane Grey adaptations in the 1920s. THE DARK WIND was shot in the fall of 1990 and premiered at the London Film Festival in November, 1991. Although bought by Seven Arts, this 1991-copyrighted picture was never released theatrically and quietly crept out on video

in 1993. (Violence, profanity.)

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  • Released: 1993
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Backed by Robert Redford, this much-heralded movie, the first film to be based on popular novelist Tony Hillerman's series of books featuring American Indian policemen Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, is a major disappointment. Recently graduated from New Mex… (more)

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