SQUANTO: A WARRIOR'S TALE **1/4 Directed by Xavier Koller. Written by Darlene Graviotto. Photography, Robbie Greenberg. Production design, Gemma Jackson. Editing, Lisa Day. Costumes, Olga Dimitrov. Music, Joel McNeely. Cast: Adam Beach, Sheldon Peters Wolfchild, Irene Bedard, Michael Gambon, Mandy Patinkin, Eric Schweig, et al. A Walt Disney Picture. 100 min. Rated PG.
In the early 1600s, a young Eastern Massachusetts warrior was kidnapped by English slave traders, suffered in England, returned home to find his village totally wiped out by a virus brought by Europeans, yet brokered a peace that lasted for decades between Indians and Pilgrims.
In the movie, newlywed Squanto (Beach) and, from another tribe, his friend Epenow (Schweig), are abducted by deceitful fur traders. The mastermind of this dastardly act is back in Plymouth, England. Vile Sir George (Gambon) owns the shipping company and doubles as a showman. He wants "his" Indians as side-show freaks.
Squanto is thrown into a bear pit, where, magically, he calms the beast through an incantation. And before you can say "noble savage" he escapes in a sequence as athletic and as unlikely as those of Errol Flynn in swashbucklers or "Robin Hood."
The fugitive paddles a boat in rough seas, is found hurt and unconscious by the nice, Friar Tuck-ish monks of a cloister, notably the doubly nice Mandy Patinkin. Recovering improbably fast, Squanto meets his first horse which he rides masterfully within minutes. He also gets adopted by a falcon that magically warns him of danger.
Within months Squanto speaks flawless English without any traces of accent, becomes the life of the party, makes moccasins for Brother Stuart Pankin and introduces all to popcorn.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch ( Plymouth, that is, but much of the film is like a Western), Sir George keeps having fits and sending troops to find Squanto. Some of them reach the cloister barbarously perpetrate wanton destruction of precious books and stained-glass windows while looking for the "savage" and the "beast." The leave when the Father Superior swears by a holy book "that no one like this is here" in a nice bit of casuistry.
Attempting to get on a ship to the New World, Squanto is caught again, but escapes once more, because he gets his cellmates (rats) to gnaw on the thongs that bind his hands and because Brother Patinkin has placed Squanto's horse strategically by. And, performing an equestrian shore-to-ship leap that Butch and the Kid would have envied, Squanto lands on Sir George's boat which does not bother to stop. None of all this am I making up.
So Squanto returns to Massachusetts, along with Epenow (on board because of a subplot). The Indians destroy the British ship. Squanto finds his devastated village, makes peace between Pilgrims and Native Americans. Later both groups are shown partaking of Thanksgiving dinner together.
The movie was well shot in beautiful Nova Scotia, without, so far as I can tell, spots, klieg lights or reflectors that would have unnaturally filled in the shadows. The music however is generic and unrelenting.
"Squhas its moments of suspense and of humor. It is kind of sweet, very corny, emphatically skin-deep, and superficially politically correct (Noble, yes, Savage, no, English bad, Indians good). Nothing is shown of the sea voyages from and to America. The picture says little about the clash of cultures, their nature or their values. Some Native Americans might get riled at this approach, but why bother? "Squanto" is first and last a vaguely para-historical fairy tale.
The acting is OK but many faces are not convincingly Indian. Patinkin has warmth and semi-ironical smiles. Michel Gambon as the despicable ship-owner is colorful and shows again that extraordinary versatility of British actors. Gambon's films include "The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover," "A Dry White Season" and "Turtle Diary." He had the main (and prize-winning) role in the mini-series "The Singing Detective." He has played Shakespeare on stage and is currently on PBS as Inspector Maigret.
Swiss director (now in California) Xavier Koller is remembered for "Journey of Hope," -- Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film -- the harrowing tale of impoverished Turkish Kurds trying to reach Switzerland. That movie, co-produced by U of I graduate Bill Hartman had its premiere in Urbana.
Copyright E. Jahiel & The News-Gazette