INDIAN HORSE is a Canadian drama that premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, based on author Richard Wagamese’s most famous novel of the same name. Wagamese and yes, Clint Eastwood both executively produced this native Indian film.
INDIAN HORSE tells the fictional story of Saul Indian Horse but surrounded by real life non-fiction events such as the forced attendance of native children in Indian residential schools and Canada’s love for ice hockey.
Saul Indian Horse is played by different actors at different stages in his life. Sladen Peltier plays Saul at age 6, Forrest Goodluck at age 15 and Ajuawak Kapashesit as Saul at age 22. The only known actor in the cast is Martin Donovan who plays Saul’s Toronto hockey father. To the credit of director Campanelli, the transition of the actors playing Saul is smooth with no big jolt in the story telling.
The story and film is at its most exciting during the first half, especially at the Indian residential school where the Indian children are mistreated and punished. Saul’s love for hockey is what saves him. After cleaning the stables, he practices hockey on his own and gets the attention of Father Gaston. He eventually gets into big league hockey. But Saul also discovers racial prejudice and ends up disheartened by life. There is a twist to Father Gaston’s good intentions later on in the film that has shocking consequences.
The film stresses the importance of family. Saul’s foster mother tells him in one of the film’s sweetest moments: “You ware part of our family now, and you always will be.”
The film’s starting with Saul as a boy, surviving the Northern Ontario wilderness is also magnificent to watch. The beauty of Canada as seen in the lakes and rivers, the rooks and terrain, the forests and trees and the wild animals needs to be seen as captured on screen. Saul and his grandmother also escape on a rowboat that unfortunately capsizes in the rapids, excitingly captured on camera, leading to the grandmother’s death. As expected, the first part of INDIAN HORSE is the most captivating and young Peltier who plays the young Saul is most adorable.
After giving up hockey, Saul Indian Horse hits rock bottom. His last drinking binge almost kills him, and is a reluctant resident in a treatment centre for alcoholics, surrounded by people he’s sure will never understand him. But Saul wants peace, and he grudgingly comes to see that he’ll find it only through telling his story. He embarks on a journey back through the life he’s led as a northern Ojibway, with all its joys and sorrows. The last part where he tells his story is not seen in the film and Indian Horse’s life story and the film unfortunately loses its impact, despite all good intentions. Still, audiences get to see what natives (Canadian First nations) go through, despite the non-Hollywood ending.