(Claude Fournier, 1974)
Not much left of the budget after they hired Donald Sutherland, Kevin McCarthy and Chief Dan George, but in fact this was money well spent, especially in Sutherland's case. As a drunk and loopy mountie attempting to single-handedly put down the uppity Cree of pioneer Saskatchewan, he really gets some space to act, especially in the early scenes. But it's the kind of space afforded by an awestruck director who's out of his depth. Not only can Fournier not maintain any sense of ensemble, but he goes for an 'epic' feel by shooting most of the putative action scenes so ultra-wide that it's virtually impossible to tell who's who, especially once Sutherland dons the rawhide. The film does score points with its quite detailed and apparently realistic portrayal of the Cree resistance, and for a while the balance resembles wisdom; no Hollywood Indians here. But in the final scenes this balance is tragically unmasked as equivocating mush. Not wanting to offend either side in this unfortunate dispute, it degenerates into attempted historical neutrality. The ending is almost too perfect a condemnation of this approach: instead of resolving the through line of Sutherland or any other protagonist, we are treated to a montage of about 30 impassive reaction shots from characters we haven't even met. There's a reason they call them 'dramas' and this ain't it; it's like a noon-hour reenactment at Fort Qu'Appelle. Overall: could be worse, should be better.