It feels as if director Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr has created something new in his debut feature: a fascinatingly conflicted antihero of Ojibwe heritage who seems entirely distinct from previous Native American protagonists. As played by Michael Greyeyes with a mixture of breathy-mouthed arrogance and abject vulnerability, corporate high-flyer Michael is a kind of First Nations version of Patrick Bateman; a dark, inverted icon of his community’s generationally transmitted trauma, repression and self-loathing. “It’s not my fault Indians are a bunch of fucking liars and narcissists,” he spits out at one point, nowhere near a mirror.
The imposing Michael is a winner; fast-tracked at work and doted on at home by his white wife (Kate Bosworth). But he can’t look straight at his son, and a strange insecurity eats at him. “Is this getting too long?” he inquires about his pigtail to his pandering colleague (Jesse Eisenberg). In private, he pays strippers to let him choke them. None of this is surprising, with the film’s preamble outlining his upbringing on a midwest reservation, when his name was Makwa: a stream of neglect and abuse from his too-young parents that transforms him into a harrowed outcast who one day turns his rage on a classmate. Decades later, his jailbird cousin Teddo (Chaske Spencer), long sworn to silence after the incident, comes calling.
Invoking Cain and Abel, Corbine Jr charts this familial bond with a baleful mythic sweep, with the childhood scenes unfolding in a lugubrious postlapsarian twilight that feels like history is weighing in close. There is a prologue about a dying smallpox-stricken tribesman, but the white oppressor is largely off-stage here, with the long-buried modern-day repercussions front and centre, boiling away in Michael’s psyche. Wild Indian, ending in an oddly truncated way, arguably cuts off access to him at what seems like the critical point. But amid the current explosion of affirmative diversity-driven film-making, there is a kind of strength in such a self-excoriating and uncompromising point of view. Corbine Jr is one to watch.
Wild Indian is released on 29 October in cinemas.