Saturday, August 23, 2014

Movie Review: Road to Paloma

I have a confession, I wouldn't have watched this movie all the way through (or at all) had it not been for the fact that I wanted to see Michael Raymond-James in something other than Once Upon A Time or Terriers. If you're an MRJ fan like me wondering if it's worth it or not, this review will probably be more for you than anything else.

The story was written and directed by its star Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones), and follows Robert Wolf as he goes on a journey to spread his mother's ashes at a lake of special meaning to the family. Problem is Wolf is a fugitive - he's wanted for murdering the man who raped and beat his mother (ultimately causing her death).

Wolf's mother was attacked on the reservation by a white guy - meaning he would not see tribal justice, he would go through a federal court. Somehow the guy got off, so Wolf took matters into his own hands (towards the end of the film he confesses to his sister, "I'm not sorry for what I've done, I'm sorry for what I've lost.") Wolf's father (Wes Studi) is tribal law enforcement and did not approve of Wolf's actions, but understands them. He does his best to keep the law while protecting his son. The system failed their family, so he's not as trusting of the system as he once was.

The Feds want Wolf, and are unhappy with how the local law enforcement has handled the situation (he is slow to find and apprehend Wolf, and even suggests in several scenes that Justice has been done in his mind). They send one of their best agents, who is a brutal guy, to go after him. And go after him he does, he'll stop at nothing to get his man - including threatening Wolf's family with jail or worse. The local guy tags along giving help where needed, but drags his feet as much as possible.

After meeting with his father on the reservation to tell him of his plans and ask about his mother's ashes, he finds out that his sister is the one who has them. He heads her way, coming across another down on his luck guy (named Cash) and together they make their way. Honestly, I don't understand why Cash is brought along or what his story is (he keeps calling a woman about selling a house but that's never fully explained). I guess Wolf just didn't want to be alone?

There are a few significant scenes as they make their way across country (state?) as well as just some beautiful cinematography of the area. Pretty inspiring photography, actually.

Wolf's sister is married to Wolf's best friend Irish (Michael Raymond-James). While Irish is mentioned many times throughout the film by many of the characters, he isn't in the film until close to the end. This is disappointing for fans of MRJ who are looking to watch this movie for his performance, but at the same time he doesn't disappoint. (Note, as a fangirl, I realize I am biased.) Irish and Eva (Wolf's sister played by Sarah Shahi) are happily settled with a new son when Wolf shows up at their door. Irish is overjoyed in seeing his friend and the scene is genuinely happy. (Seriously, who doesn't want an MRJ hug? I hate hugs and I want one!) Irish introduces Wolf to his "godson" (and nephew) named... Wolf.

Wolf's reunion with his sister is equally happy, but quickly turns serious as they discuss his lack of future. He asks her for their mother's ashes, and while she agrees that scattering them at the lake is what their mother wanted, she isn't ready to give them up. Wolf assures her he only wants to take a little bit - the rest can be scattered on Eva and Irish's property. The two agree, and share an embrace and tears. Meanwhile, the Feds have figured out where Wolf is headed - and where Irish lives. They're quickly making their way to catching up with the fugitive.

After some bro time late into the night, Irish asks Wolf if he's ready. The guys, along with Cash, hop into Irish's truck and he takes them out to the lake. Irish returns to find Eva and baby Wolf inside and they have company. The scene that comes next is intense and horrible. The Feds have found them, and when they don't get the answers they want out of Eva and Irish they arrest Irish, and take Eva out of the house - taking baby Wolf away from her. While holding the child - threatening to take the child away permanently - Agent Williams continues to badger Irish with questions on where he took Wolf.

Michael Raymond-James gives off a very emotional performance as a man who is torn between protecting his son, and protecting his friend and brother. Knowing the Federal Agent has the upper hand and can and will make good on his threat to throw Eva in jail and revoke their parental rights, Irish relents and agrees to show Agent Williams where he took Wolf and Cash. It's a heart breaking scene, and every other word out of MRJ's mouth is pretty foul (and even Agent Williams quips "your daddy has a potty mouth.") It's dark and ugly and both actors are intense in their roles. It's probably one of the better scenes in the film, all things considered.

*Highlight below to see my take on the ending*

Wolf is able to make good and scatter his mother's ashes. Irish does his best to give Wolf enough time, but Agent Williams prods on. Williams asks Schaeffer (local law guy) to bring along a gun, presumably to stop Wolf from running. As they come up on the ridge Irish yells out to Wolf to watch out that they were there. Agent Williams knocks Irish out (hey, at least MRJ doesn't die this time, right?) and orders Schaeffer to take the shot. After a brief argument - during which Wolf begins to run - Schaeffer takes the shot. He doesn't shoot to kill (I think he takes out a leg), but Wolf does not want to be caught. He stabs himself and bleeds out in Cash's arms. And that's the end of the film.

Overall this movie is not a feel good movie. It's well directed from a cinematography standpoint, but in places it's rather slow. The story, while interesting, has a few "squirrel" moments that don't fully get explained and left me with wondering what the heck they went down that path for. My biggest question mark is the character of Cash - I just don't understand the need for him (presumably since he was played by one of the other writers the need came from the guy needing a part in the movie ha ha) and there were parts of his character in scenes that seemed to be significant - but it was never explained why it was significant.

I honestly would not have watched the entire film had it not been for the fact that I wanted to see what MRJ brought to the table. Aside from the scenes with Wes Studi (Wolf's Father), the Irish & Eva scenes had the most heart and were the most "enjoyable" (I can't think of a better word, but not all scenes were enjoyable). Most scenes leading up to the Irish/Eva scenes I think are written to humanize Wolf and show that he's not a bad guy - that he was somehow justified in killing his mother's rapist/murderer.

The movie touches on the Native American community's distrust of the Federal Government. Hey, I get it. The same tensions are here in Alaska with Native Alaskans and the rest of the world/Government (shoot, most Alaskans no matter what their ethnic background share those feelings!)  I also understand first hand how rape is treated in our judicial system, in so many cases it seems they bend over backwards to protect the rapist and ignore the victim. And I, somewhat hypocritically, love a good vigilante story (I'm a big fan of the TV show Arrow, based on the DC comic Green Arrow... and I grew up loving Batman). I think the movie could've focused more on the subject, and been a little less one sided (how/why did the guy get off, for example).

The family scenes/emotions/themes in the film really drive this film. Momoa is a big dude, and has an intimidating look, but his character for all his rough ant tumble qualities seems to have a big heart and it shows in the different scenes with friends and family. As I said earlier - I really loved Wolf's reunion with Irish and Eva. They are the only *warmth* in the whole film (and that's shown not only in the acting but the lighting of the film as well). Not really surprising that MRJ was cast as Irish. He had great chemistry with everyone on screen. Very believable. Actually most everyone in this film was spot on.

Overall from a storytelling/acting/movie perspective I give it a solid 3/5. This is NOT a film for someone looking for a clean dramatic film. There's some nudity/sex... and a LOT of language. I didn't try to keep count of the F-bomb... and they went further than that in their language. It wasn't really needed to get the point across (though in all honesty I don't blame Irish for going nuts in the scene with Agent Williams). But I knew going into the film to expect it (I mean when several actors are fans of being on shows on HBO and FX because they get to curse, an R rated movie for them is a dream! haha).

I actually expected more offensiveness in the movie, and was surprised that it was mainly language that was bothersome. The other stuff that I was expecting was very short or non-existant. So if language is your thing use your best judgement at whether or not to watch - I'd rank it pretty similar to "Book of Eli" content wise... but with a less wholesome/positive message at the end.

For MRJ fans specifically wondering - like I did - if the movie was worth getting/watching/renting. Yes, it is. Not just for Michael's performance (which was far too short) but for the movie itself it's worth it. If you can stomach the language (which I assume most can) then you should get a lot out of the movie. Irish is a great character (and is a typical MRJ role), and Mikey lights up the screen like always. I really really liked his scenes. They come at the end of the movie so you have to be patient but it's worth it. I didn't get emotional in the parts that were supposed to be emotional, but that's because I'm dead inside - not because they weren't well acted.

You can rent the movie from Netflix if you want to check it out (I would), or it is now on sale on Amazon and in stores. I might look at adding it to my collection.


  1. Frankly, I watched the film for Jason Mamoa. I was not disappointed in any aspect from any actor. Story line was carried through consistently and simply to the point in my opinion. Love, hate , revenge which breeds violence of course, and sadness, were all in the presence. My main question of how Robert Wolf died at the end was answered by you. PS. I was called away during the scenes of Robert, his sister n family n Cash trying to prepare for ash spreading. I came back ( to the movie) and Robert Wolf was on the ground , being held by Cash. You answered my question and I am very appreciative. Thank you Toni Reitter.

    1. Glad to have helped. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment.