Live by the spear...
Review: End of the Spear
|Sheer joy or sheer terror? You decide|
They don't pre-screen independent religious films for critics because they assume we're all heathens. Their proof? We don't usually review the movies they don't show us.
It's true we can be rough on films whose execution doesn't live up to their
intentions. If the road to Heaven is paved with good intentions those movies should be playing in a multiplex when we get there.
End of the Spear is better than the usual amateur-night illustrated sermon. Based on a true story about five missionaries (one of them played by Atlanta 's Stephen Caudill) who were killed by Ecuadorian Indians in 1956, it tells much of the story from the natives' viewpoint. Only at the very end does it get too heavy with the message that the men didn't die in vain; the rest of the time there's very little preaching because it's wisely assumed the people who will see the movie have heard it all before.
The Waodani haven't changed their way of life in hundreds of years. While their women dress modestly, at least for the film, the men wear skimpy, often bulging loincloths with a thin strip up the buttcrack that sometimes looks glued in place. Director Jim Hanon works in a few screen-filling crotch shots and more bare butts than a season of NYPD Blue.
Not known for their hospitality, the Waodani engage in occasional bloody border skirmishes with the next tribe over and take preemptive strikes against hunters who would as soon kill them as other animals. The hunters have guns, the natives spears. The Waodani can't easily distinguish missionaries from other outsiders.
Into Waodani territory come five well-meaning Christians, including Nate Saint (Chad Allen), who declares in advance they won't use guns: "We can't shoot the Waodani. They're not ready for Heaven. We are." He's aware that, "No one's ever made contact with these people and lived to tell about it."
That last doesn't change immediately, but when the men's survivors follow them the Waodani are more accepting of the women and children. One, Kimo (Jack Guzman) takes to their non-violent philosophy and others follow later.
The story is narrated by Saint's young son Steve (Chase Ellison; Chad Allen assumes the role of grown Steve in an epilogue).
It's suggested that the Waodani's transition to nonviolence is assisted by their former opponents bring wiped out by disease, and it's never indicated that they actually convert to Christianity. That this tribe's lot is improved by the visit of these missionaries is a given but End of the Spear leaves open the larger question of whether Christians should interfere in the lives of indigenous peoples around the world.
That inconclusiveness makes it a better film than the usual religious paganda.
Steve Warren is a local actor and film reviewer. His reviews can also be seen weekly in the Sunday Paper.