The debut feature from Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr. is a deceptively simplistic take on a history of violence, embodied in the ruthless Makwa (played by Phoenix Wilson as a boy and a fantastic Michael Greyeyes in his adult years).

Abused and bullied, young Makwa kills a classmate and forces his gentle cousin Ted-O (Julian Gopal and Chaske Spencer) to help him bury the body. This act turns the boys into very different men: the wealthy and successful Makwa openly adopts Western values — an English name, a white wife, and Christianity — while Ted-O, clearly more haunted by the deed, has done multiple stints in prison by the time we meet him again.

From the start the film makes its deeper intentions known with its framing tale of “an Ojibwe man who got a little sick and wandered west” and early scenes where a priest sermonizes on Cain and Abel.

Although it has significant and poetic things to say about assimilation and violence, the film could use a bit more flesh. That said, it’s pretty special to see Greyeyes in a role as textured and contemporary as this.

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