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Film / The Dark Wind

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"The Navajo believe that when a man does something evil, it is because a dark wind has entered his soul."

The Dark Wind is an American mystery film made in 1991, directed by Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line) and adapted from the Leaphorn & Chee novel of the same name by Tony Hillerman.

It is set on the Native American reservation shared by the Navajo and Hopi tribes, with tensions simmering between them. The main character, Jim Chee (Lou Diamond Phillips), is a Navajo police officer who has been transferred there a week earlier. Initially, he's sent to investigate the mundane case of vandalism at the local water pump, but things soon take a turn for the worse when a body is found killed in accordance to Navajo's "skinwalker" fashion. Soon, there's also a suspicious fatal crash of a small plane, whose pilot was a known drug-runner. It is up to Jim Chee to unravel the mess and find the bigger picture.

This film provides examples of the following tropes:

  • 555: The phone number for Jim Chee's Spirit Healing business is 602 - 555 - 75 - 38.
  • Becoming the Mask: Jake West is driven by revenge when he embarks on his murder spree and only uses the "skinwalker" rituals to make his involvement less obvious. Soon, however, he begins to enjoy it and does a ritual dance around the fire just for the hell of it.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Nearly the only sign of death on the first body found.
  • The Brute: Larry, the henchman of Agent Johnson.
  • Captain Obvious: Chee's background narration when the first body is found:
    "This is not my idea of a good time."
  • Chekhov's Gun: The circus poster on the wall of Jake's West shop. It foreshadows his circus past and ability to escape from bonds.
  • Cool Shades: Detective Johnson sports them when he's introduced, and he seems to intentionally wear them for intimidation.
  • Corrupt Cop: Agent Johnson is one, setting up Jake West's son to be killed so that he can manipulate the father into killing all accomplices in his drug trade operation when he no longer needs them. He also thinks nothing of intimidating Chee into dropping his investigation.
    • Chee himself also gets shades of this by the end, given that he aids the Hopi keeper in disabling the water pump in exchange for help and distracts a hotel keeper with a staged fire (granted, a tiny one in a bin, but still) to get the phone recordings)
  • Dead All Along: The supposed jewellery thief from Jake's store turns out to be this by the end.
  • Dull Surprise: The reaction of several Hopi people when they stumble upon the body.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: The jewelry thief likes his father.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Jake West. He's nice in the first meeting with others, and we see him entertaining young kids with some of his tricks. However, he is very much merciless when it comes to his revenge.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Jim and Dashee start off distrusting each other and implicitly racist towards' each other's group. By the end of the film, they work together and genuinely care about each other.
  • Hanlon's Razor: Invoked by Joe Leandgren when Chee is questioned by Johnson on there apparently being 40 minutes unaccounted for. When Jim asks if he also finds it suspicious, he replies:
    Joe: No, because I know something that Agent Johnson doesn't.
    Jim: What is it?
    Joe: How slow you work.
  • It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: The final showdown occurs during one.
  • Leave the Camera Running: Used a couple of times to pad out running time.
  • Made of Explodium: Averted throughout the film. Even when a small plane crashes, we see the wires sparkle and a small fire, but there is no explosion.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Averted with the water mill vandalism: it turns out to be motivated by the mill drying up the sacred ceremonial spring nearby.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: The moment when Jim draws a mind map on paper to help him figure out what happened. It's literally just pencil moving on grid paper in extreme close up, yet it somehow feels almost gripping.
  • Precision F-Strike: Gail Pauling when she finds out about her husband's death.
    "How the fuck did you manage to crash a plane into the mountain in the middle of the fucking desert!"
  • P.O.V. Cam: Often used throughout the film. A particularly interesting example is when Jim is drawing a mind map in his note-book: the camera zooms in on the paper and pencil.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Joe Leandgren.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Jake West is forgiven by Chee for his crimes when he saves him from Agent Johnson, but gets mortally wounded.
  • Slashed Throat: Ben Gaines is killed in this way.
  • Title Drop: More like the entire tagline drop at one point (see above), when Jim Chee lectures Gail that Navajo don't believe in revenge.
  • Translation Convention: When Jim is present, only the dialogue in Navajo language is subtitled. The Hopi language speech between Dashee and the Hopi keeper is left unsubtitled. When there are only Hopi around (like when the first body is found) their speech is subtitled.
  • Visible Boom Mic: On several occasions. The film reportedly had been re-written many times and was running over-budget, so there wasn't time to re-shoot the scenes or edit it out in post-production.
  • Women Are Wiser: Averted. Gail Pauling, the young widow of Richard Holanzer is considerably more impulsive and on the whole rather less wise than Chee.
  • Wrench Wench: Edna Nezzie, a Navajo bulldozer driver who is interrogated at one point in the film, has looks that fit with the trope.