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Older than America: Awards don’t make a movie.


Browsing through Netflix, I remembered hearing about the movie “Older Than America” from a bunch of people in Indian Country. Adding it to my queue I decided to check out the trailer first before watching.  “Older Than America,” from the trailer looked like a promising film so I hit play. After watching it, I realized that the trailer did precisely what it was meant to do, attract you to the movie. The trailer was better than the film.

“Older Than America” is a Native American thriller based on the trauma that native residential schools have left on today’s society. Starring skilled native actors such as Adam Beach, Wes Studi, Tantoo Cardinal, Georgina Lightning and featuring Bradley Cooper in a supporting role, I was surprised by the under acting in the film. All of the actors seemed as if they weren’t even trying to perform well. It was shocking the lack of fluidity in lines and emotions in some scenes with Beach and Lightning.

As Georgina Lightning’s directorial debut she was successful in creating an entertaining set for a tragic aspect of Native people’s history. While the aspect was well thought out it was carried out in a surprisingly mediocre fashion.

Lightning played the main character, Rain, has been subject to visions about a secret past of the reservation and its boarding school. In the beginning of the film the audience is shown that after a mysterious earthquake arises near the abandoned boarding school, a geologist (Cooper) comes to investigate the strange occurrences. He befriends John Goodfeather (Beach), a reservation police officer and Rain’s fiancé. The rest of the film is a battle between Rain, her Aunt Apple (Cardinal), the local priest and discovering the truth about Rain’s visions.

In analyzing the film, Cooper’s character plot and the rest of the film, don’t merge properly; Luke (Cooper) was a side-plot that never had a true conclusion that lead to the rest. I felt compelled by the history of the boarding school that had caused its students to be “broken and bruised with scars that never healed” but I was left left questioning the background and future of the characters.

The film had won two awards from The American Indian Film Festival, including Best Director and Best Supporting Actor (Wes Studi). However, it most likely had to do with the historical content of the film. I thought Studi’s role, Richard Two Rivers, the reservation’s radio host, was a minimally contributing role in the film. Which also makes Cooper and his character as being used merely for his worldwide acting success to bring attention to the film.

While the film tries at an interesting storyline its main point was to bring attention to the travesties that occurred across indigenous communities from forced removal of children and their placement into residential schools. It succeeded in this aspect but not as fulfilling entertainment. The film itself seems confused with its identity as a documentary versus a film with a compelling fantasy storyline, which can be the reason for the sub-par acting from skillful actors.

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1 thought on “Older than America: Awards don’t make a movie.”

  1. Hi Charlotte,

    Thank you for bringing this movie to my attention. I just finished watching it on Netflix. I felt the acting was okay. I would still recommend the movie for the content that many (non Amerindians) are probably not fully aware of.

    It goes without saying that the movie is emotionally upsetting. I normally don’t watch horror movies, but because this movie is based on a true story I decided to watch it. I felt like I was in a living nightmare as I was watching it. I’m a chicken when it comes to scary movies.

    Toward the end of the movie I thought “If I feel tormented while watching this movie, imaging how the children and parents of the children felt. Horrible.”

    U.S. culture is strange in that now groups are sometimes shamed if they don’t know the language of their heritage, while at the same time, the U.S. makes it a point to not offer dual language immersion as a national public school standard.

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