When the underdog Native American high school lacrosse team, the titular Crooked Arrows, starts winning toward the end of “Crooked Arrows,” a prep schooler sitting in the bleachers says, “When did Indians start playing lacrosse?”
Most Americans know by now that North American natives invented lacrosse. The game became more formalized with written rules in 1867, after which it became a competitive sport in elite prep schools and colleges, primarily in the northeastern United States. A line from the movie states the reason for its invention: “Long ago the Creator gave us the Medicine Game, that we all come together and heal each other.”
“Crooked Arrows” is a warm-hearted, inspiring little movie. It has, granted, a ton of Native American cinematic clichés, such as dream sequences featuring spluttering, staccato wooden flutes, soaring eagles, and so on, but it works nicely.
Rite of Passage for the Coach
Brandon Routh, one of our former cinematic Supermen, plays Joe Logan, former star lacrosse player now turned slick businessman, who’s looking to upgrade the casino on the reservation he grew up on. This upgrade means opening ancestral land to developers.
As his father (Gil Birmingham) and the rest of the tribal council can easily see, while the young man might have entrepreneurial skills, he’s also fairly shallow and lacks integrity. In order to show he’s mature enough to make such momentous decisions, he’s put to the test. He has to coach the reservation’s directionless, under-inspired, and under-equipped lacrosse team.
The classic storyline ensues: egotistical and noncommittal coach, and a team of listless and resentful players. The odds of winning against vastly superior and well-funded teams is too overwhelming to take practice seriously.
The coach then incurs some personal losses, has a dark night of the soul, and thereby taps into his Native American spiritual heritage, thus fundamentally changing his conventional thinking.
A cute, can-he-win-her-back romance also starts up with Joe’s former cheerleader girlfriend Julie (Crystal Allen), who has returned with a Ph.D. to teach at the high school.
Then come the get-in-shape and motivational montages, the get-smacked-around first games, the back-to-the-drawing-board sequences—and the first win.
Rite of Passage for the Kids
Next up is the rejuvenating of the cultural heritage within the team, and the drawing on of Native American traditions such as the vision quest and the sweat lodge—all of which were originally designed to turn boys into men. A tribal elder speaks of the Creator and the origins of the game. The whupping and smackdowns of the snooty prep school boys commences—let the fun begin.
As mentioned, there are a lot of clichés. There’s a fair amount of bad acting, but it’s nevertheless inspiring to see the boys hanging earned warrior hawk feathers off their helmets. It’s further inspiring to see how not only their morale but their moral standard rises as they take sanctuary in their spiritual heritage, and to compare that with the other team’s culture of taking pride in getting away with cheating.
Best line of the movie: “We often give our enemies the means to our defeat. Look inside yourself to find the origin of your downfall.” Maybe the Creator … gave America the Medicine Game, that we all come together and heal each other? Imagine if all our sports had that as an end goal?
“Crooked Arrows” is straight-up popcorn and inspiration for a Saturday night in the home entertainment den!
Director: Steve Rash
Starring: Brandon Routh, Gil Birmingham, Crystal Allen, Chelsea Ricketts, Dennis Ambriz, Jimmy Silverfoot
Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Release Date: May 18, 2012
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars