Black Cloud

on October 01, 2004 by Wade Major
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Age-old clichés and time-honored sentimentality fall mercifully to the wayside in actor Rick Schroder's exceptionally impressive writing and directing debut, "Black Cloud," the story of a young Native American and his determined quest to find peace and redemption through boxing.

Up-and-comer Eddie Spears stars as Black Cloud, a Navajo youth struggling to cope with the mixed-up feelings of reservation life. When his emotions are channeled into the boxing ring, he's unbeatable. When his frustrations are released elsewhere, he invariably gets himself into trouble. For Black Cloud's mentor and father figure, Bud (Russell Means), the greatest challenge isn't so much teaching the boy how to fight others, but to stop fighting himself. Indeed, Black Cloud often doesn't seem to appreciate the best things in his life, particularly the devotion of long-suffering girlfriend Sammi (Julia Jones), a single mother whose previous relationship with a hell-raising rodeo cowboy (Schroder) proves to be a much greater stumbling block for Black Cloud than for her. It's only after an Olympic scout (Peter Greene) offers him a chance at making the U.S. Olympic team that he's forced to finally take stock of his life and confront his demons.

It's always something of a risk when a story is framed around the sport of boxing--comparisons to both "Rocky" and "Raging Bull" become inevitable, and rarely turn out favorably for the contenders. But Schroder's film more than holds its own, its dazzling, gut-wrenching fight sequences marvelously contrasted with earnest, sensitively-acted drama. This is clearly something of a passion project for Schroder--a personal, heartfelt hymn to the human spirit and its infinite capacity to triumph against seemingly insurmountable odds. Even jaded sports film snobs are likely to find this effort both richly rewarding and profoundly inspirational.

Not to be overlooked here are Schroder's talents as a writer, particularly with respect to the depiction of reservation life and such aspects of Native American culture as Shamanism. But Schroder is careful to neither fetishize nor sensationalize the practice (as many often do), integrating it organically into the broader narrative so that it reinforces, rather than distracts from, the central thematic concerns.

Given Schroder's career trajectory from child star to adult star to filmmaker, it's a foregone conclusion that some will attempt to draw parallels to the career of Ron Howard, although the sheer mediocrity of Howard's 1977 directing debut, "Grand Theft Auto," gives Schroder the clear edge in any such analogy. Not only is "Black Cloud" anything but mediocre, it's an exciting harbinger of even greater things to come. Starring Eddie Spears, Russell Means, Rick Schroder, Julia Jones, Tim McGraw, Peter Greene and Wayne Knight. Directed and written by Rick Schroder. Produced by Karen Beninati, David D. Moore, Andrea Schroder and Rick Schroder. An Old Post release. Drama. Rated PG-13 language, violence and sexual innuendo. Running time: 97 min

Tags: Starring Eddie Spears, Russell Means, Rick Schroder, Julia Jones, Tim McGraw, Peter Greene and Wayne Knight. Directed and written by Rick Schroder. Produced by Karen Beninati, David D. Moore, Andrea Schroder, Old Post, Drama
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