Haida wild­man ready for his close-up


The Georgia Straight - - MOVIES -

RE­VIEWS EDGE OF THE KNIFE Star­ring Tyler York. In Haida, with English sub­ti­tles. Rat­ing un­avail­able

THE FIRST fea­ture shot en­tirely in the Haida lan­guage is an in­can­ta­tory visit to a far­away time and place that is some­how still with us, in more than ghostly form.

Shot in var­i­ous parts of Haida Gwaii, or what used to be called the Queen Char­lotte Is­lands, Edge of the Knife takes place in an un­spec­i­fied part of the 19th cen­tury, with very lit­tle vis­i­ble in­tru­sion from Europe. (That changes by the time of the film’s very brief coda.)

Two ex­tended fam­i­lies meet on a small is­land ideal for sum­mer hunt­ing, cook­ing, and hang­ing out. Solid, slightly pudgy pa­tri­arch Kwa (Willy Russ) has been look­ing for­ward to see­ing his buddy Adi­its’ii, although he knows the guy is a some­what trou­bleprone hand­ful. (First-timer Tyler York re­sem­bles a sham­bolic Adam Driver in this part.) In any case, Kwa’s young son ad­mires the lanky fel­low’s free-spir­ited ways—a prob­lem when he joins his hero on a fish­ing trip Dad is against, due to darken­ing weather.

Adi­its’ii even­tu­ally rows home alone, and runs into the dense for­est to es­cape pun­ish­ment, if not shame. Most oth­ers as­sume he has died, and they all de­camp to warmer climes while our guilt-rid­den screwup strug­gles to sur­vive the win­ter. As the man gets more des­per­ate, he grad­u­ally loses his hu­man bear­ing and be­gins to trans­form into a wild crea­ture, known in Haida lore as a Gaagi­ixid, pre­sented here with a simian gait and weird fa­cial pro­tu­ber­ances: part Sasquatch, part por­cu­pine!

Back among the civ­i­lized folk, Kwa still yearns for re­venge, although his wife, Hlaaya (Adeana Young), coun­sels re­straint, in­sist­ing that if Adi­its’ii should ever be found alive, there would be ways to re­claim him. Their dilemma could be seen as rel­e­vant to the task of re­cov­er­ing First Na­tions strays who wan­der into the lost world of drugs and al­co­hol, or are sim­ply cut off from his­tory and com­mu­nity. First-time codi­rec­tors Gwaai Eden­shaw and He­len Haig-brown don’t over­state their in­ten­tions.

The fore­ground story is in­ter­est­ing, even if some­what slowed by stiff stag­ing and the no­tably pho­netic recita­tion of non­pro ac­tors. But look at the de­gree of dif­fi­culty they are work­ing against, with fewer than 30 flu­ent Haida speak­ers on the planet to­day! What re­ally sticks is the re­con­structed slices of ev­ery­day life, with wo­ven clothes and sleek carv­ings ap­pear­ing strik­ingly mod­ern in this ar­bo­real con­text. And it’s fas­ci­nat­ing to see the young peo­ple of more than a hun­dred years ago dis­play dif­fer­ent tastes in pierc­ings, tat­toos, mu­sic, and hu­mour than their el­ders. In that and other senses, this Knife stays very sharp in­deed. by Ken Eis­ner

WI­D­OWS Star­ring Vi­ola Davis. In English and Span­ish, with English sub­ti­tles. Rated 14A

CAN A pop­corn movie have too high a pedi­gree and still do its job? That’s one of many in­trigu­ing ques­tions raised but not re­ally an­swered by Wi­d­ows, which tack­les the Big Sub­jects with­out quite be­ing able to nail them down.

First off, this is from Bri­tish di­rec­tor Steve Mcqueen, fol­low­ing his 12 Years a Slave suc­cess with a seem­ingly com­mer­cial genre ex­er­cise: an all-fe­male heist movie. Like Ocean’s 8, it boasts an A-list cast caught up in a high-con­cept crime. Top­ping the bill, and prob­a­bly Os­car-bound, is Vi­ola Davis, as Veron­ica, hap­pily mar­ried to Harry (Liam Nee­son)—a dot­ing hus­band, as we see in an early-morn­ing pream­ble set in their swanky Chicago pen­t­house. He’s also a big-time thief, as we also dis­cover in the tightly cross­cut open­ing se­quence. So the real trou­ble with Harry is that he’s dead.

The fa­mous Five Stages of Grief are men­tioned at one point, af­ter Veron­ica starts meet­ing the women left be­hind by the other three men who died with her hus­band’s crew. Hav­ing to pay back a cool two mil, stolen from a Chi-town gang­ster (At­lanta rap­per Brian Tyree Henry) look­ing to buy his way into lo­cal pol­i­tics, is not usu­ally on that list. This time it is, es­pe­cially when the guy’s sadis­tic brother (Get Out’s Daniel Kalu­uya) is on the case. In fact, she’ll have to process her heartache by get­ting wi­d­ows Linda (Michelle Ro­driguez), Al­ice (El­iz­a­beth De­bicki), and Amanda (Car­rie Coon) to help her pull off that One Last Job her hubby left be­hind.

Coon’s char­ac­ter proves a noshow—one of many dead-end sub­plots here—so the gals re­cruit a tough run­ner from the projects (Bad Times at the El Royale’s ver­sa­tile Cyn­thia Erivo) to be their get­away driver. Some­how, a side­track with Al­ice work­ing as an es­cort takes the story to Colin Far­rell as Jack Mul­li­gan, run­ning against said gang­ster for al­der­man in a mostly black ward. Mul­li­gan is hop­ing to in­herit this power po­si­tion from his cor­rupt fa­ther (Robert Du­vall), but wants to play it straight, even though the district was cre­ated through ruth­less eth­nic ger­ry­man­der­ing.

As you can tell from this thumb­nail out­line, Mcqueen has at­tached a lot of hot-but­ton is­sues to an os­ten­si­bly pulp story. His fre­quently pre­pos­ter­ous script, adapted from a Bri­tish TV se­ries of the ’80s (and a U.S. copy from 2002), was cowrit­ten with high-trash priest­ess Gil­lian Flynn (Gone Girl, Sharp Ob­jects), and they throw sev­eral kitchen sinks into the works, but for­get to add the fun. The movie wants to be taken se­ri­ously as a fem­i­nist and class-minded call to arms. And yet it never even both­ers to in­ter­ro­gate the women’s com­plic­ity in their dead part­ners’ nasty ca­reers. In the end, it’s nei­ther pro­found so­cial study nor bub­bly ca­per flick, but just a kind of up­scale widow dress­ing.

by Ken Eis­ner

Edge of the Knife.Tyler York plays the fa­bled Gaagi­ixid in the Haida-lan­guage fea­ture,

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