Chad Allen, Chase Ellison, Louie Leonardo
Bill Ewing, Bart Gavigan
Every Tribe, MPower, Rocky Mountain
|In 1956, five missionaries were speared to death in the Eastern rainforest of Ecuador by members of the Waodani tribe. Known by anthropologists as the most violent society ever documented, the Waodani lived by a code of "Spear or be Speared." Their exact location uncharted, the Waodani are discovered by this group of missionaries who desire to teach the Waodani to live in peace. After making peaceful contact by air, the five men land on a tiny sand strip convinced that their peaceful interactions will continue, despite limited knowledge of the Waodani language and their own commitment to nonviolence under any circumstances.
The missionaries are speared when a tribesman, seeking mischief, claims that the White men kidnapped a tribeswoman, Dayumae.
If the film were to end here, it would remain a powerful story of faith and dedication. However, the story of "End of the Spear" doesn't end with the end of the spear buried deep within the missionaries who acted upon their faith.
What happens next is a journey beyond faith for the surviving families of Nate Saint, Jim Elliott, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully, and Roger Youderian. It is a a journey about forgiveness beyond reason, hope in utter darkness, love against nearly all odds.
It is, in particular, the family of Nate Saint who continue to reach out to the Waodani even after the brutal murder. They eventually visit the tribe, live with the tribe, and over a period of many years the tribe begins to accept a path of peace and faith. Mincayani, the tribal leader, becomes a grandfather to the grandson of the man he once murdered, the tribe establishes peace with a long hated enemy, and by the mid 1990's homicides among the Waodani had decreased by 90%. The grandson, Steve, moved his family to Ecuador to live among the Waodani...all of this borne out of a single act of violence against five peace-seeking missionaries.
"End of the Spear" began as an award-winning documentary called "Beyond the Gates of Splendor." With the support of the families involved and the Waodani tribe, this film is, perhaps, the closest thing to a "true story" to come out of Hollywood in quite some time. On a fairly modest $10 million budget, "End of the Spear" captured the Grand Prize at the Heartland Film Festival in 2005 and begins a limited nationwide release on January 20, 2006.
"End of the Spear" is destined to be a hard-sell at the box-office with its obvious Christian leanings and "missionary" theme. On top of this, the upcoming "The New World" has the current market cornered on "exotic locales" and those seeking beautiful cinematography and exotic locales are likely to head that direction before venturing into a film such as this one.
Admittedly, a $10 million budget is on the upper-end of what I can, with a straight face, consider an "independent" film, "End of the Spear" still must be considered one of the best independent films released in recent years. With relatively unknown actors, director Jim Hanon captures beautifully the journey of the missionaries as the learn, travel to Ecuador, dare to make contact with the Waodani, are brutally murdered, and with the Waodani as they slowly begin to change their ways. The cinematography of Roger Driskell is breathtaking, in fact, a tad too breathtaking at times as the pristine imagery at times dilutes the powerful impact of the film.
The script by Bart Gavigan (who also penned "Luther") and Bill Ewing is simple, but largely effective. The film, at times, strays into Disney territory with its simplistic approach to inspiration but it largely goes for a more authentic humanity and quite often is quite stark and frightening.
In particular, the scenes involving fighting and the attack on the missionaries is, while not necessarily graphic, quite disturbing to watch and earned the film a PG-13 rating.
Hanon makes the odd choice of using largely Latino actors in the Waodani roles, however, it is doubtful that most would notice the difference. Particularly effective is Louie Leonardo as Mincayani, Christina Souza as Dayumae, and Jack Guzman as Kimo.
Chad Allen has the unique task of playing both Nate Saint and the older Steve Saint, and handles both roles with tremendous grace and balance. As the young Steve, in a tremendously heartbreaking performance destined to be one of 2006's best performances by a young actor, Chase Ellison is mischievous, loyal, innocent, and mesmerizing.
"End of the Spear" is not a perfect film, but it is a small gem surrounded by Hollywood's usual lumps of coal. At a time when all we seem to get are the standard fare of sequels, remakes, and techno crap it's refreshing to see an original, well-made, story-driven drama featuring real people living real lives.
While "End of the Spear" is, quite literally, a film about missionaries spreading the gospel it is not, in fact, a preachy film. Instead, it focuses more on universal themes of peace, hope, family, and love.
This weekend, while everyone else is watching the latest horror flick or Queen Latifah or the latest Disney flick try something different...dare to make contact with "End of the Spear."
|© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic