Writer/director Pablo D'Stair (A Public Ransom) describes the vision for his latest film, the arthouse/indie-tinged Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief, as sort of a Harold Pinter adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith novel shot by the likes of an Ida Lupino or James Landis.
The first triumph, I suppose, that I have as a film critic is that I actually understand that statement and I can see hints of it within this 60-minute existential noir meets Jarmusch meets a second cousin of Todd Solondz.
If I've already lost you, then Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief is not for you.
If I haven't already lost you, but it sounds completely dreadful then there's a pretty darn good chance that Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief is also not for you.
I have a strange feeling that D'Stair doesn't particularly mind if his film isn't for you, though I'm sure like every filmmaker he'd actually prefer that his film gets seen. The vision here, quite clearly, isn't about popularity but artistic integrity and growth as a filmmaker. While I haven't seen D'Stair's debut film, there's enough good going on in Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief that it's hard not to be intrigued by seeing where D'Stair goes next cinematically.
The film centers largely around a couple, Lana (Helen Bonaparte) and Leonard (Carlyle Edwards), whose marriage is falling apart amidst mistrust and paranoia that seemingly begins to involve and influence those around them.
D'Stair, for the most part, openly admits that his films are a bit of an acquired taste and he feels quite comfortable with as much. The black-and-white lensing adds a sort of home movie quality to everything that goes on here, a quality that can be both unnerving and a little bit more revealing. I've always admired filmmakers who find creative ways to deal with having a smaller budget, and it would be impossible to not be impressed with D'Stair's unique lensing and a sound mix that takes the inevitable challenges of a low-budget effort and creates a film that snaps, crackles, and pops in all the right places. It's a unique approach, and it doesn't always work, but when it does work it makes the film a more involving and interesting affair.
Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief feels very much like it's either trapped in the land of early noir or dancing on that edge of feeling like a stage production where the actors are still trying to get a sense of their characters. While that may sound like that's an insult, in reality I think there's a large degree of it all that's intentional as these two lead characters are two people who don't really know each other and don't really trust each other. While the performances are definitely not the strong point here, I have a strong sense that a lot of what unfolds does so with great intention.
At only 60 minutes in length, Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief is a tightly edited film with more focus on its spoken word than necessarily on what's happening in the film. It's a film that invites you to lean into it as you'll want to listen carefully to the dialogue back and forth. While I might argue that the dialogue isn't particularly natural, I would simultaneously argue that, once again, such a truth is an intentional choice by D'Stair in creating an aura of mystery that pulls you in even when you realize that you're not particularly enjoying yourself.
Watch for the film on Vimeo where D'Stair is releasing three different films this year including this one and his debut film. While this isn't a film for everyone, fans of experimental indie cinema will find much to enjoy and it's always a blast to be able to support an authentic cinematic voice in the early stages of his career.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic