Here’s another good Canadian drama about the plight of indigenous people during a dark time in our history. Clint Eastwood is an executive producer surprisingly enough.
Synopsis: In the late 1950’s Ontario, eight-year-old Saul Indian Horse is torn from his Ojibway (Anishnaabe) family and committed to one of Canada’s notorious Catholic Residential Schools. In this oppressive environment, Saul is denied the freedom to speak his language or embrace his Indigenous heritage while he witnesses horrendous abuse at the hands of the very people entrusted with his care. Despite this, Saul finds salvation in the unlikeliest of places and favorite Canadian pastime-hockey. Fascinated by the game, he secretly teaches himself to play, developing a unique and rare skill. He seems to see the game in a way no other player can. His talent leads him away from the misery of the school, eventually leading him to the Pros. But the ghosts of Saul’s past are always present, and threaten to derail his promising career and future. (Elevation Pictures)
Starring: Sladen Peltier, Forrest Goodluck, and Ajuawak Kapashesit
Writer: Dennis Foon
Director: Stephen S. Campanelli
Rating: 14A (Canada)
Running Time: 101mins
For showtimes and more, check out Indian Horse on movietimes.com.
Canada may seem like a nice country but early in its history (and kind of still today), it has not exactly treated indigenous people fairly. This film based on Richard Wagamese’s award winning novel sheds a light on this through the eyes of a man named Saul Indian Horse (played by Peltier, Goodluck, and Kapashesit as a child, teen, and adult respectively). The story follows him from the moment that he is taken from his family to his time as an aspiring professional hockey player and his subsequent downfall. There’s obviously a lot to cover here so not everything was impactful as it could have been.
As most indigenous children in 1950s Canada were, Saul was taken away from his family and placed in a residential school. Residential schools were government-sponsored religious schools established to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture (for more, check out this article). They were bad places for the most part although before it can go far enough with it, Saul met the too nice Father Gaston (Michiel Huisman) and hockey. Hockey became his escape and he just happened to be really good at it.
Teen Saul arguably had it the best as his talents got the attention of a family who took him in. He found a group of friends while joining an indigenous hockey team, however, that did not make him privy to the racism of the time. Saul then took all this baggage with him to his adult years but the film poorly conveyed the feelings that laid below the surface. His hockey ability got the attention of the owner of a farm team for the Toronto Maple Leafs. His dream came to an end as all his baggage became too much to bare. Saul was too subdued of a character through all his incarnations without much nuance. It just came out of nowhere. Though there was more going on here that didn’t quite work, the story righted the ship by the end.
The acting was good with Peltier, Goodluck, and Kapashesit standing out almost by default as Saul was the only developed character here. In order to tell his entire story, the film didn’t explore much of it with too much depth which took away from his development as a result. Despite the inconsistent writing and direction, all three were still compelling to watch and root for because of what they went through.
Overall, this was a good Canadian indigenous drama that manages to tell a compelling enough story despite glossing over several big moments for the sake of completeness which ultimately makes it not as impactful as it could have been.