It would be easy for the film Thelma & Louise to come to mind while watching writer/director Jesse Edwards' Alta Valley, though the film that kept coming to mind for me was David Mackenzie's Hell or High Water. Having its world premiere at this week's Nashville Film Festival, Alta Valley is a rarity indeed as a downright action flick with a deep respect for Native American people and a willingness to tackle such issues as colonization, land ownership, and reparations.
You could say that Alta Valley is a thinking person's action flick.
Alta Valley centers around Lupe (newcomer Briza Covarrubias), a Mexican-Diné mechanic whose mother is in need of medical treatments she can't afford. Determined to do whatever it takes to help her mother, she heads off to seek financial help from her estranged father, Carl (Micah Fitzgerald). Along the way, she crosses paths with Maddy (Allee Sutton Hethcoat), an outlaw cowgirl in her own spot of trouble and on the run from a Mexican mob boss. Unfortunately, Carl proves to not quite be the answer to their problems and Lupe is forced to defend her family, her heritage, and do what it takes to end the exploitation of her people and their land.
The dueling duo of Lupe and Maddy is a dynamic one, Covarrubias and Hethcoat possessing a believable chemistry and ample amounts of grit and vulnerability. With his narrative feature debut, Jesse Edwards has crafted a film that packs in the action while also dialing up the emotional resonance. Alta Valley is co-produced by Charles Robinson, a member of the Choctaw Tribe, and cultural awareness and direct involvement of the Diné is integral to the film's story and successful manifestation. The film was shot in south Utah not far from the Navajo nation, an intentional choice that both respects the sacredness of the Navajo Nation and Edwards' desire to involve as many Native American cast and crew members as possible.
As noted, Alta Valley possesses a strong ensemble cast largely led by the convincing chemistry and earthy grit of Briza Covarrubias and Allee Sutton Hethcoat. Covarrubias is a definite up-and-comer with a wonderful blending together of wisdom and passion in her performance. Hethcoat, a 2017 Miss Tennessee USA who now practices law in addition to acting/modeling, serves up a steely vulnerability that leaves you constantly wondering if she's going to cry, kick your a** or, more likely, both.
Together, they're simply awesome.
Among the supporting players, Micah Fitzgerald undeniably shines in all the uncomfortable ways as the estranged father who probably should have stayed estranged. The rest of the ensemble is strong across the board.
Edwards lenses Alta Valley himself and does so magnificently capturing the beauty of southern Utah and the sparse, isolated feeling that amps up the film's action and anxiety. The original music by Ryan Taubert complements the film's story incredibly well.
With its world premiere at Nashville, Alta Valley heads out on its festival run where there's little doubt its reputation will grow and an indie studio will pick up this gem of an action flick and help it find the audience it definitely deserves.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic