The Native American-themed drama “Neither Wolf Nor Dog,” based on Kent Nerburn’s 1994 novel, effectively touches on such critical topics as racism, poverty, emotional restitution and the often-horrific scars of American history. But this overlong film’s glacial pace and talky, unevenly told narrative undercut its potential power and accessibility.
The movie, filmed in 2014 by director Steven Lewis Simpson (he also shot and edited plus adapted the script with Nerburn), finds Minnesota artist-writer Kent (Christopher Sweeney) mysteriously summoned to South Dakota to meet with Dan (Dave Bald Eagle), a 95-year-old Lakota elder who, it turns out, wants Kent to write his memoirs.
Kent reluctantly journeys to the hardscrabble Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where he’s soon parrying with the crusty but slyly wise Dan, Dan’s surly granddaughter (Roseanne Supernault) and his irascible sidekick, Grover (Richard Ray Whitman).
We understand the locals’ deep-seated resentment toward Kent — or anyone white. But they invited him there so the ongoing tension between camps can feel forced and repetitive.
A contrivance involving Kent’s truck strands him with Dan and Grover, who corral Kent for an eye-opening road trip across the vividly-captured Plains. A moving, reportedly improvised scene at Wounded Knee is a highlight.
The slow and steady Bald Eagle, who died in 2016 at 97, proves a uniquely soulful presence; his deeply etched face is unforgettable.
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Playing: Starts Sept. 13, Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena