"Black Cloud" is a modest, straightforward but affecting coming-of-age story about a young Navajo with a real talent for boxing but who is also his own worst enemy. It marks a solid writing and directing debut for actor Rick Schroder, and it is above all a fine showcase for Eddie Spears, a handsome, well-muscled Lakota Sioux with a smoldering screen presence. Navajo Nation locales, including sequences set in Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly, provide the film's photogenic settings.
The name of Black Cloud tends to fit Spears' young boxer all too well. He has internalized so much racism he has virtually become a reverse racist. He is fortunate to have the strong, paternal Bud (Russell Means) as his mentor and boxing coach, who is trying to channel the young man's frustration and anger into boxing, yet Black Cloud is easily unhinged.
He has been dating Sammi (Julia Jones), who is a stabilizing force in his life, but when a cowboy (Schroder), an unabashed racist, who had seduced and abandoned Sammi several years earlier, turns up to participate in a rodeo, Black Cloud becomes infuriated at the cowboy's callous disregard for Sammi and the infant son he sired.
Learning that he is of mixed blood himself sends Black Cloud off on a self-destructive tangent, and he becomes consumed with shame and self-hatred at the realization he could possess even a small degree of white ancestry. With a party-hearty widowed father for an example, Black Cloud could easily fall victim to the alcoholism and despair that overcomes so many Native Americans.
But the caring, no-nonsense Bud doesn't give up on Black Cloud easily. As Black Cloud sees himself plunging toward rock bottom, he has a strong enough survival instinct to turn to his grandfather, who introduces his grandson to the healing powers of ancient Navajo rituals.
Black Cloud is now in the position to draw upon his heritage as a source of abiding strength and pride, but it's up to him to put this knowledge to good use in a move toward self-acceptance -- and an acknowledgment that racism is never likely to go away and therefore he must not let it destroy him. He must also decide whether to return to the ring and to Sammi, whom he has rejected as being too good for him.
This is a lot to work through, but it's exactly the process Black Cloud must go through if he is to become a man, let alone a successful boxer.
There's considerable universality in Black Cloud's plight, yet Schroder makes it personal and deeply felt.
In a direct, unpretentious manner, "Black Cloud" expresses most effectively its hero's struggle with himself.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for violence and language, including sexual innuendo
Times guidelines: Some violence, language; may be too intense for the very young
Eddie Spears...Black Cloud
Tim McGraw...Sheriff Powers
An Old Post Films presentation in association with Tule Films and High Maintenance Films. Writer-producer-director Rick Schroder. Producers Schroder, David Moore, Karen Beninati, Andrea Schroder, Igor Kovacevich. Executive producer Adam Batz. Cinematographer Steve Gainer. Film editors Geraud Brisson, Ed Marx. Costumes Chantal Thomas. Production designer Damon Portier. Art director Charles Nance. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.
Exclusively at the Beverly Center Cineplex, 8522 Beverly Blvd., (310) 652-7760.