January 21, 2017 -- This documentary film (executive producers are Terrence Malick, Natalie Portman, and Chris Eyre) by Jack Pettibone Riccobono (“Killer”) is a portrait of despair and policy failure on an Ojibway reservation in rural Minnesota. It follows reservation gang leader Rob Brown during the time he is waiting to go to prison for the fifth time for dealing drugs.
Drug use is rampant on the reservation, as is smoking, by just about everyone from young children to senior citizens. Brown, and others in the film show creativity in writing and drawing, but according to one resident, only about one in ten people there make it in the outside world.
Brown at first talks bravely about going back to prison, where he has spent much of his adult life, but as the day approaches for him to go back to prison, his despair deepens and his drug use increases. The film also follows a teenager, Kevin, who seems to be following in Brown's footsteps. His goal is to become the biggest drug dealer on the reservation.
There is not much to do at the Pine Point village on the White Earth Indian Reservation. There aren't many jobs, and not much in the way of entertainment either, just TV. One older resident is seen catching leeches that he sells for fishing bait. He tries to befriend Kevin and set him straight, but sees him slipping away down the path towards drugs, gangs and prison.
Young mothers and young children are seen in the film, but the feeling they are all doomed is inescapable. Kevin calls a native outreach program as soon as he gets out of jail, saying he will meet with a representative at a local Pow Wow, but when the representative arrives, Kevin is selling drugs and the Pow Wow. He leaves without the two making contact.
This environment, though in a small town, seems very similar to inner cities, right down to the rap music blaring away on car speakers. Crime, unemployment, drugs, violence, despair. The landscape is different, but in many ways the despair is the same.
Later, we see Brown again in prison. The drugs have gone from his system. He is more alert, and is writing his book again, but it will be years before he gets out. He calls home and talks to the daughter he has not seen, and tells her that he loves her. We all hope that the daughter, Persephone, is going to be O.K., but it is a long shot.
This is a harrowing, effective film about life on the reservation. It pulls no punches and offers no solutions, easy or otherwise. The only demand it makes of us is that we pay attention to what is going on here. This film rates a B.
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