Movie Review: Crooked Arrows
By Jason Barney
May 31, 2012

No, I swear. Lacrosse is actually a sport.

Memorial Day Weekend, usually one of the most lucrative box office periods of the year, has passed. Audiences had free reign to choose from the giants of the early summer movie season. Men in Black III, made for $230 million, debuted to about $69 million in four days. The darling of 2012 thus far has been The Avengers, which cost $220 million to make and is now is the third highest grossing film of all time, taking in over $530 million.

There were more movies competing for your wallets and attention this weekend. Regardless of where you looked, something was being marketed to you. Dark Shadows, which was made for $150 million, was yet another attempt by a studio to cash in on the recent vampire craze. Battleship, full of its pulsing action and brilliant explosions, and made for $209 million dollars, sought to bring in the teenage males. Women were supposed to flock to see What to Expect When You’re Expecting, made for $40 million. Comedy fans had the Dictator, which cost $65 million to make. Even horror fans had the rare summer scare fest, the Chernobyl Diaries. It seems like every possible movie interest or hobby had an on-screen tale seeking American’s pocket books.

Of course, there are other films available to those who are looking for them, films without the special effects that make your mind go numb and action resembling a video game. There are flicks available that don’t have time-traveling aliens, creepy monsters, or nonsensical plots. You have to seek them out, because they probably are not grabbing a lot of screens at the local theaters.

But, they are there.

One of those films is Crooked Arrows. It didn’t cost much to make.

It is about lacrosse, and you’ll probably like it.

Currently playing in only 67 theaters, this is one movie goers should take a look at. Chances are it is in a small “artsy” theater in your region. You may have to search your nearby show times, but if it is playing, you should see it.

The setting is in upstate New York, in a small town on an Indian reservation. The Sunnaquot tribe is being pressured by wealthy interests to expand the gambling casino that already exists on their territory. The gambling organizer attempts to befriend the natives by employing one of their own, Joe Logan, played quite ably by Brandon Routh,of Superman Returns. He naturally has a solid relationship with the village elders, and is sincerely trying to improve things in the community. He recognizes there is poverty in the tribe, his people need jobs, and there could be significant economic benefits if the casino is enlarged. In the back story of the film, he has already set up a new school and has plans to build a hospital with the money the natives could make if the developer’s plans progress.

A hitch arises when the tribal elders tell him the casino can expand, only if he, as one of them, makes the effort to explore his cultural heritage. His father, who is part of the elder council, maneuvers Logan into a position of coaching the community’s lacrosse team and examining his people’s identity. Joe accepts, thinking his duties will be menial, his commitment light. He takes on the job of coaching the team, believing anything he goes through is worth bringing the casino to town.

From this point, viewers are exposed to the bonds between the game of lacrosse and the Native American people. The storytellers do a wonderful job of exposing the cultural history of the tribe in upstate New York, and showing just how much lacrosse is actually their game, without giving them present day ownership of it. Crooked Arrows is not preachy. It does not present Native Americans defensive about how modern civilization has popularized lacrosse. It is about their people, exploring and rediscovering their culture and history. They adopt” Crooked Arrows” as their team name because of its link to their traditions.

As the story progresses, we learn the gambling interests are much more ambitious than Logan originally thought. They are planning to take a larger chunk of the Indian land than was bargained for. Logan wrestles with doing the right thing, while at the same time coming to enjoy his role as coach. His journey is moving. At the start of the story he has little interest in the past or in the meaning of his heritage. As the Crooked Arrow Lacrosse team begins to win, he understands where the game came from and his own roots.

The movie is far from perfect. There are a couple of stretches in the storytelling. For example, the arrival of the character Maug about halfway through could have been handled better. Maug is supposed to represent a bridge between the legends of the past and the talent on the field, but the viewer is left wondering where he came from. Logan’s non-coaching during a couple of games near the end of the season just doesn’t weave well with the rest of the story. Also, the revelation about his play while he was in school is unbelievable.

However, there are far more nice pieces of this film than those that are difficult to accept. The path of the high-schoolers from screwing around athletes to a well functioning team is particularly uplifting, as are the native characters that we see. Chelsea Ricketts is great as Nadie Logan, Joe’s sister. Their father, played by Gil Birmingham, delivers a strong performance. Another agreeable aspect is the vision quest, which despite what it sounds like, is actually very well done. The boys’ training in the woods is handled perfectly; watching it evokes memories of children with limitless energy.

The final aspect that gives Crooked Arrows legitimacy is the focus on a sport that is not hugely popular, but certainly recognizable. The in-game action is intense to watch. The lacrosse sequences make the viewer a fan, even if you have never viewed a match. At the end ESPN is brought on in a nice way, and even one of their well-known national announcers, Sean McDonough, gets screen time. Unless you play lacrosse, this might be the most of this sport you have ever watched.

But why not?

Why not go to the box office and spend money on a story that builds, in a serious way, on America’s obsession with sports? That respects and explores a historical culture and delivers a nice underdog story. Why not put money behind a project that will take its place in the sports library of any movie collection?

Let’s see. Next weekend. Hollywood is giving us our second adaptation of Snow White in the last three months. Then there are the big budget films released earlier this summer. Bloodsucking Vampires. Mushroom clouds of erupting carnage.

Crooked Arrows is worth your time. Go see it.

There is a scene near the end where a woman, a fan of the opposing club, leans over to another fan, surprised that the Crooked Arrow team is playing so well. She utters in condescending disbelief, “When did the Native Americans learn how to play Lacrosse?”

Spending your coin on a ticket for this one will, at the very least, answer that question.