End of the Spear

Reviewed By William Goss
Posted 02/09/06 19:06:26

"Assume The Missionary Position"
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

Last year, Jim Hanon directed a documentary entitled 'Beyond The Gates of Splendor,' chronicling the impact of outside civilization on the indigenous people of Ecuador, beginning with the deaths of five missionaries at the hands of the Waodani tribe. Almost exactly one year afterwards comes 'End of the Spear,' a dramatization of those events, also directed by Hanon. Although I have yet to see 'Splendor,' with a 'Spear' this dull, I have a hunch that something got lost in the translation from fact to fiction.

The plot is divided between the role of Mincayani (Louie Leonardo) in his tribe, and the childhood of Steve Saint (Chase Ellison), whose father, Nate (Chad Allen), led the efforts to make contact with the Waodani and was soon killed alongside four fellow missionaries by Mincayani and his people. Over time, the Saint family becomes further integrated with the tribe, eventually winning over the tribe and taming their legendarily fierce demeanor.

Despite the story revolving around missionaries domesticating a native society, Spear isnít nearly as preachy as one would fear. However, writer/director Hanon has a habit of putting the work of the aptly named Saints upon a pedestal, with Nateís acts being frequently deemed courageous without a momentís regard to the recklessness of his entire situation. He had relocated and, as a result of his death, abandoned his family in a foreign land in his pursuit of a noble cause. The arc of Mincayani is equally tidy, as the appearance of young Steve seems to ignite some degree of remorse for his actions. By the time an adult Steve (also portrayed by Allen) returns to the tribe, the once-savage Mincayani sees it fit to tell him that he was the one who murdered his father. Rampant redemption ensues.

While a better film would have explored more of the moral conflict on either side, Hanon prefers to keep his story as straightforward and streak-free as possible, which makes for a bland result overall. The production values are adequate for the story, and the relatively no-name cast makes the most of their flat roles and weak dialogue. Only for a few scenes do the proceedings become exceedingly stilted, particularly with the weary intrusion of faith in a climactic flashback. With such overstated elements making for a bloated movie, chances are the story was best told through the interviews and pictures that Gates of Splendor most likely employed and that End of the Spear only touches upon during its end credits.

The film caps things off with a coda, declaring that the filmmakers will put a portion of their profits towards helping indigenous people such as the Waodani tribe. Unfortunately, this 'Spear' misses its target, both as a film and as a fundraiser.

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