Reviews: Black Cloud

Review by Dan Lybarger:

The title character (Eddie Spears) is a likable fellow who sometimes forgets to save his punching for the ring. Admittedly, he’s got a lot to upset him. His girlfriend Sammi (Julia Jones) is being hassled by her white ex-boyfriend (Schroder, in a delightfully skuzzy turn), a rodeo rider who’s also the father her child.

Sammi and Black Cloud are also hard up for a place to live because openings are rare, and an uncooperative, corrupt white bureaucrat (Wayne Knight) isn’t helping.

Needless to say all of these aggravations lead the normally good natured pugilist to swing his fists outside the ring. This gets him in trouble with the local sheriff (country singer Tim Mc Graw), whose nephew just happens to ride broncs. Worse, Black Cloud may be squandering his potential because his manager (Russell Means) believes the fighter has a shot at making the U.S. Olympic Team and turning pro.

Just about any of these elements has the making of a decent story. It’s almost as if Schroder has too much to work with. The subplot about Black Cloud and Sammi’s quest for a place to live could have feasibly made a compelling movie in itself. Instead, “Black Cloud” leaps from one piece of the tale to another with cursory resolutions. When characters discuss the deaths of loved ones, it’s brushed off before viewers have had a chance to take things in.

On the plus side, Schroder has obviously learned a lot about filmmaking because he’s acted professionally since he was a child. He coaxes solid performances from his fellow thespians (Means’ sympathetic performance is a standout). He also has a decent eye for action scenes and makes good use of gorgeous Arizona and Utah locations. He shoots in some of the same spots that John Ford used in his westerns but makes a much different point.

In “Black Cloud” Schroder reminds viewers that John Wayne movies and Hollywood in general haven’t been fair to Native Americans. His desire to present a much fuller picture is commendable. At the packed, enthusiastic screening I attended he indicated he’d like to explore life in Indian Country again. If he can refine his writing and keep his heart in the right place, his next movie might offer the impact that “Black Cloud” is missing.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:

Published January 29, 2009

Although the trajectory of young fighter succeeding against the odds - and against himself - is familiar, Black Cloud is an engaging and entertaining story about a young Navajo burdened by demons about his single white ancestor, and has a chip on his shoulder as big as Arizona itself, the striking land where it was shot. Eddie Spears makes a fiery Black Cloud, and his permanent sneer is in fact a fascial characteristic; it gives way (rarely) to a dazzling smile.

Julia Jones is terrific and moving as his gorgeous girl Sammi, and Russell Means is marvellous as his coach and mentor, Bud. But it's writer/director Rick Shroder who has cast himself as the bad boy, Eddie, who goes to prove the old adage about not judging a book by its cover, especially when it comes to humans. The young actor (NYPD Blue) turned director, distinguishes himself with this feature debut, wrangling the story with clarity and energy. Black Cloud has to go through a journey of self discovery and maturity, and here, Shroder takes the risky step (for a white man) of calling on Navajo spirituality - and he pulls it off with sensitivity and style.

The boxing is minimal, but enough, and especially the climactic championship fight, which is punchy (ouch!).