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‘If I had a nickel for every time a white guy came out here to write a book about us, I could buy back the Black Hills.” So says one Native American character, channelling decades of oppression and cultural appropriation, in this earnest but sometimes laboured road movie. The remark must have been burning enough in the 1990s, when award-winning Minnesota writer Kent Nerburn – who adapts his own book here – set out into Dakota to chronicle indigenous lives. But it’s white-hot in the current cultural climate, any white person trespassing on to minority-narrative territory begging to be “cancelled” these days.
Scottish director Steven Lewis Simpson circumvents this with maximum authenticity in his casting and emotional provenance. Ninety-five-year-old Lakota elder Dave Bald Eagle notably plays Dan, who cajoles Nerburn (played by Christopher Sweeney) into writing his memoir, then hoodwinks him into sticking at it when the responsibility begins to freak the author out. Simpson has obviously convinced some folk; you suspect only a dedicated Native American audience has made the self-distributed Neither Wolf Nor Dog the longest-running US theatrical release in more than a decade. Certainly Bald Eagle – a technical adviser on Dances With Wolves, who died shortly after filming with Simpson – gives a charming performance, rumpled and wryly resigned to passing out of history.
The respectfulness, unfortunately, stifles the drama. Nerburn and Simpson resort to didactic ambushes, like the uptight museum director who won’t acknowledge the insensitivity of displaying Native American bones. There’s no doubting the feeling in Bald Eagle’s climactic monologue, apparently improvised, at Wounded Knee monument, but letting it run unexpurgated is a history lesson that surrenders the question of white guilt too easily. On more than one occasion, Simpson’s staging is awkward, as if he’s uncertain who lays claim to the dominant perspective; his best visual efforts are group tableaus, the white American making himself at ease with indigenous locals. Then history is quietly present in body language, silences, and the question about white man’s burden most truthfully answered: unresolved.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Neither Wolf Nor Dog review – road movie tells Native American stories | Drama films