Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars
I’ll admit up front that I’ve never played lacrosse. To be honest, it wasn’t played where I grew up in Florida. I first learned about it when I lived in Baltimore, as it’s a very popular sport in the mid-Atlantic states. I do know that it is a game of skill and speed. And those qualities are perfectly captured in the new and uplifting film “Crooked Arrows.”
Joe Logan (Routh) currently runs the casino that sits on land that has been in his tribe for centuries. Calling himself “Chief Wampum,” he wanders the gaming floor handing out feathers with bonus coupons attached and shooting arrows at a board that also includes such specials as “$5.00 free play!” When the developer that built the casino wants to expand he makes Joe an offer he can’t refuse. If he can convince the tribal elders to cede more land for expansion he will make Joe, and the tribe, very wealthy. But in order to succeed Joe must also do something for his people.
Presented with the approval and cooperation of the Onondaga Nation, “Crooked Arrows” is a history lesson in the game of lacrosse, which was invented centuries ago by Native Americans. Referred to often as both “the creator’s game” and “the medicine game,” lacrosse is both an athletic and spiritual journey. When Joe is informed by the tribal elders that he must also complete a spiritual journey to achieve his goals, he is assigned the task of coaching the tribal schools lacrosse team. We learn that Joe was, at one time, a great player for a rival private school, where he was known as “Logan the Legend.” However he soured on the game and really wants nothing to do with it. However, he accepts the challenge and, assisted by his lacrosse-loving sister Nadie (Ricketts) and guided by the advice of his father (Birmingham) he begins to recapture the love and respect he had both for the game and for his heritage.
The performances here are strong and natural. Routh may very well be the most likeable actor working today. There’s something about his presence on-screen, be it in “Superman Returns” or the romantic “Fling,” that just says “good guy.” Even when he’s fighting against the tribal councils wishes you can’t help but root for him. Ricketts is equally likeable here. As the only member of the team that actually understands the game and its heritage she radiates confidence. And Birmingham brings a quiet dignity to his role as both the tribe’s leader and Joe and Nadie’s dad.
Director Rash, who three decades ago gave us the great bio-pic “The Buddy Holly Story,” has managed to capture both the speed of the game and the smaller off-field moments beautifully. The photography, especially when the film flashes back to images of long ago, is lush and Brian Ralston’s musical score is a perfect accompaniment to the onscreen story.