The Dark Wind (1991) Poster


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Along the Navajo Trail
bkoganbing13 September 2007
Despite the 'creative differences' with producer Robert Redford that did not allow director Errol Morris to finish The Dark Wind, the final product did not turn out half bad. Sad that it was relegated to straight to video and did not get a theatrical release.

I liked Lou Diamond Phillips very much as Navajo Reserrvation officer Jim Chee, hero of many books by Tony Hillerman. Being part Cherokee himself, Phillips does have a very good insight into playing Indian characters as in Renegades, Young Guns I & II, and Sioux City.

Here he's the new guy on the force and hasn't made all that good an impression on his new boss, Fred Ward when he drives into a ditch while in hot pursuit of some speeders.

A lot of very strange, seemingly unconnected things are happening that Lou is asked to look into. A decaying body of an Navajo, the vandalism of a windmill, a plane crash in the middle of the reservation, some missing heroin from said crash, and the burglary of the Navajo Trading Post, yet all are connected. And Lou winds up on a suspect list as well.

Location shooting on the Navajo and Hopi Reservations really helps the story along. And there are some nice performances by Gary Farmer as a Hopi Deputy Sheriff, Gary Basaraba and Guy Boyd as a pair of DEA agents, and John Karlen as the trading post owner. Besides Lou and Farmer who are American Indians, a whole lot of the supporting players and small parts are played by same.

It's a good film, despite some filming goofs, with some very nice performances and a good story.

Hey even Alfred Hitchcock had some goofs in some of his classics.
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Just pretend it has nothing to do with the book.
Meredith Tanner17 April 1999
Film adaptations of novels are a mixed bag at best, and The Dark Wind, allegedly based on Tony Hillerman's novel of the same name, isn't one of the best. The screenwriters took several unnecessary liberties with the storyline and characters, including stealing details from other Hillerman novels and dropping Captain Largo entirely in favor of Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn. Fans of Hillerman's novels won't like the portrayal of Jim Chee as an awkward, barely-competent rookie, either.

It's hard to tell whether Lou Diamond Phillips is just failing to portray Jim Chee as he's intended to be, or whether he just didn't bother to read the book and find out. Having replaced Captain Largo's character with Fred Ward as Joe Leaphorn, the script doesn't take advantage of either character's personality, but at least they didn't turn him into one of those generic shouting police captains we see so much of in the movies.

Despite all of this, it's a fairly likeable movie. The film was shot on location in and around the Navajo reservation in Arizona and New Mexico. The scenery is magnificent, and judging from the names in the cast and crew, the producers took advantage of local talent to fill in some of the smaller roles, which adds a good bit of authenticity. If you close one eye and pretend it has nothing to do with a Tony Hillerman novel, you'll probably enjoy it.
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Navajo Language spoken by Jim Chee!
morrisb7057 May 2000
When I first saw The Dark Wind, I was impressed that local people were cast as extras and were speaking the Navajo Language. The subtitles were accurate.

When I heard Chee speak Navajo, it was broken but he's not a native speaker. I was very impressed that he took the time to actually learn to speak the words.
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Perfect for Hillerman fans!!
michaels_babe44022 September 2006
Lou Diamond Phillips is the perfect "Jim Chee". I have read many of Tony Hillerman's novels and this was a great rendition. I saw this movie in college for an anthropology class. The best two classes of the semester!! (Thanks Dr. Neeley) The scenery was beautiful. The story line was exciting, true to the book. The only thing I would change would be the actor who plays Joe Leaphorn. Nothing against Fred Ward, he did a good job, but when you read book after book with the same characters you tend to visualize these people in your mind. And I have always envisioned James Olmos from Miami Vice as Leaphorn. I would love to see more of these novels made into movies.
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...and some are rained out.
guy boyd15 June 2006
Here's Agent Johnson's take on it. Something did go wrong. Erroll wasn't big on action/fight scenes, but he was very hip to Navajo humor. Some would call it dry. The producers, (over half way through), opted for an action movie but the script wasn't able to support it on that basis. Mr. Hillerman wrote a mystery. Redford brought in an action director for all the fight scenes and Erroll went to his trailer, and it became a stuntmans' movie. (If the mic is in the shot on a 1-take dangerous stunt you just go ahead and use it, I guess.)There were a slew of re-writes and plot changes for the last several scenes in order not to denigrate a particular Hopi ritual that was supposedly pre-approved. The logical resolution of the plot suffered to say the least. I really enjoyed Erroll being there, and felt bad for him in the latter part of the shoot. Lou hung in like a trooper throughout and I thought gave a nuanced and skillful performance.(I hope to get a chance to hear his version of events someday) I don't think the film solved

the mystery of filming a Tony Hillerman mystery completely but as long as Erroll was in charge it had heart. There were rumors about the lack of distribution being brought on by Carolco's overspending on The Last Action Hero and taking a huge bath. There was no money to advertise Dark Wind or so the gossip was at the time.
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Boom mike technical notes
will lee4 December 2006
Plenty of films of this vintage suffer from boom mikes in frame and the top and dolly tracks visible at the bottom: this is an artifact born of failed productions. When the camera operator composed the shot, he had been told the film was being made for theatrical release, in a 1:1.85 ratio and so when the boom dipped down slightly, but not enough to make it into the "letterbox" they let it slide. Then, after the film failed on the festival circuit or preview process, etc and was dumped to video no one cared to correct the errors - they were all just trying to dump the project on the market as quickly as possible. Had the final "release print" been made, instead of a video transfer from the camera original (mivees and all) we would have been spared the spectacle of seeing mister boom mike. Most of these types of film were being dumped onto the video market before consumers cared to see letterboxed releases, so the transfer was made full frame.
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Low budget , but faithful
murfnik27 June 2008
For using native actors, I give it a 10 of 10. The production values are rather poor, but then again, they used a lot of local people for grips, etc. Many shots with the sound boom in them.

This film was never distributed, so the editing was never really finished. Those shots with the boom could have been optically cropped. The sound very often picks up too much..for instance late in the film, in Leaphorn's house, the ticking of a clock near the mic almost drowned out the conversation.

Chee is supposed to be somewhat quiet, slow to move, but Phillips might have taken that a bit far.

Overall, it's fairly faithful to the book.
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Can't Win Them All
Darryl Cox (DD-931)4 April 2003
For me, the biggest shame of this movie is that the horribly botched direction gets in the way of what I consider an excellent performance by Lou Diamond Phillips in the title role. Whether his performance was exactly what fans of the book expected Jim Chee to be like or not (I read the book first, and personally thought Lou did quite a nice interpretation of Chee), the fact remains that the performance was a high quality example of subtle film acting.

And for those who quibble that Lou shouldn't have played the role because he wasn't a full blood Navajo...well, I'd like to know who the hell Russell Crowe thinks he is! For an Australian to be allowed to play an American in A BEAUTIFUL MIND and an Italian in GLADIATOR...It's just not right!
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A faithful interpretation of the book
aschank-215 October 2006
Having read all of Tony Hillerman's work in the Leaphorn/Chee series, I felt the movie was pretty good. I understood the plot and felt it was quite faithful to the book. The acting by Lou Diamond Philips was very in character with Jim Chee. Gary Farmer and Fred Ward also turned in performances worthy of the characters they portrayed. Robert Redford executive produced this and was diligent in using American Indians as actors throughout the film. I enjoyed hearing the characters speaking Navajo. Three more of Tony Hillerman's works were further formated for PBS, again with Robert Redford's involvement. Chee and Leaphorn are cast with different actors, who are wonderful too, but I believe that Gary Farmer is in at least one of these other films.
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Phillips vs. Beach
dmj4226 July 2005
Comparing Lou Diamond Phillips' rendition of Jim Chee to Adam Beach's version in the PBS specials, it's obvious that SOMEone decided that Chee had to assume a more authoritarian stance and actually seem like a physical threat when necessary to the story. In The Dark Wind, Phillips seemed to spend more time in handcuffs than anyone else in the story; his character seems less in control of his fate than (to make an apples-and-oranges comparison) McGyver, who relies on his wits and doesn't even carry a weapon (other than maybe a swiss army knife). Not to criticize Phillips' performance, which I thought was as good as it could be given the script,I think that the series of PBS specials would have ended at one had the Chee character not been reworked.
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Beautiful and spectacular
nbwahl25 November 2002
The Robert Redford films are always beautiful - spectacular displays. The "Meeting of the Spirits and the Real World" on the mountaintop, with thunder, lightning, bon fire with sparks flying, wind blowing, dancers' shadows, and chanting is almost worth the price of admission. I have read the book, and thought the casting was good, but the hairstyle of Jim Chee didn't match the character. I enjoyed the film, and urge others to see it, although many of the actors are not Native Americans which is a failing to many viewers.
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An OK piece of work
kcll_125 August 2005
Having read the book of the same title by Tony Hillerman, I believe the movie is one of the best in being as close to the book as possible. The story is great but film-making was terrible. There is at least one shot in the movie where the boom mike is clearly visible at the top of the screen. Also, the acting from most of the people wasn't that great. As far as Lou Diamond Phillips goes, I have seen him do much better than this film, and I think the best actor was Gary Farmer in the role of Cowboy Dashee. However, if you're a fan of the books, I recommend seeing this and I hope that the upcoming Hillerman stories on PBS are better than this one.
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Visually Arresting Whodunit
Matt Wall17 August 2002
I've seen this movie four times now, and I remain perplexed as to why it didn't (a) get theatrically released in the first place or (b) better received by IMDB voters.

Well, I'm going to take some guesses, anyway. First off, Hillerman fans. I'm a big Tony Hillerman fan, and it's true, this movie is not completely true to the text of the book nor to the in-depth development of the characters of Chee and Leaphorn.

Guess what? IT"S A MOVIE, NOT A BOOK. You can't get the complexity of

characters built up over a 20-book series into two hours. If you want the book, go read the book for heaven's sake.

What Director Morris did was combine the essence of the Chee character -- the tension between the science and modernity of being an investigating law

enforcement in the late 20th century with the earnest desire in Chee to maintain the traditions of the Dinei -- with a Whodunit that worked well on film. (Mystery novel plots and movie mystery plots do not work on the same level, usually.)

There's a nice quietness to the whole movie, and we're half in Chee's head much of the time. Morris uses the same kind of brilliant palette he used in 'Thin Blue Line' to such good effect, and essentially creates a hybrid film -- half noir, half western.

So why did this movie get sat upon by the studio? My guess is they just couldn't figure out what to do with it. It's not loud, noisy, the explosions and gun battles are minimal, the character has no love interest, and even though the Navajo traditional religion is not as deeply portrayed here as it is in the Hillerman books (by a long shot) even that was probably just confusing to the Hollywood types. The director known for documentaries may be a hard sell as a fiction auteur to critics. The deliberate pacing may appear to be "slow" if you're comparing it to 'Lethal Weapon II'. Who knows?

So, in conclusion:

(1) I think Hillerman fans were disappointed it wasn't more slavishly faithful to the original text of the specific book.

(2) Errol Morris acolytes probably didn't really understand the transition to fiction of his peculiar style.

(3) The Usual Hollywood suspects just didn't get a film so quiet, visual, and without the usual formulaic plot elements.

The movie's not perfect, mind you. I liked Lou Diamond Phillips' quite presence in the role, but there was a problem believing him as a Navajo (why not use a Native American actor?) Some of the dialogue is a little forced (although the same could be said about the Hillerman novels, too, at times). And Leaphorn's character is a bit thrown away (although, again, in the early Chee novels he plays almost no role at all, so why quibble on this point?)

I'd REALLY like to see this uncut and on the big screen sometime with a nice color print. I bet it plays very well that way. The sound and sound editing in the movie are really excellent (on top of the cinematographic highlights noted elsewhere.)

In any event, I think this is a good movie, and if taken just on face value, it's a better than average cop-whodunit flick.
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The tell-tale sign is the microphone
Fazacker6 February 2006
It was hard to take this movie seriously because those who made it obviously did not. I counted 3 times that the microphone for sound dipped down into the scene that was being filmed. Sloppy work and the actors seemed to be mumbling, but maybe that was my reaction to the microphone dipping down. The actors are well known but this time they seemed to be acting by rote. If this is the Morris who does the documentaries then he would be well advised to stick to them and to get a new sound guy. I found the plot hard to follow as all the main activity is either in the past or happens off screen . What is difficult to take are the remarkable discoveries that the main character makes piecing it all together and the minimal response this sleuthing evokes in the other characters.Something went wrong while this movie was being made. Again no-one seems to have viewed the final cut or the would have edited out the microphones.
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Good Adaptation. (and Visible Boom Mics are NOT Filmmaker's fault)
curtis martin21 September 2015
I like "The Dark Wind." Though it didn't follow the novel to the last detail, it did follow it much more than the subsequent "Mystery" TV movies did. And this one definitely has the flavor of the Hillerman novels. It's not a blockbuster. In fact THIS probably should have been a TV movie as well. While they cherry-picked some details from other novels, the details of Navajo life and behavior that Hillerman describes in his novels are there. Some people didn't like that Leaphorn was inserted in the story though he wasn't in the original novel. I didn't mind that at all--they were intending to make more of these and the most popular stories have both characters. And the handling of Leaphorn is SO MUCH better here than in those Mystery TV-movies (in which they made Leaphorn Chee's "City Guy" foil.)

There is one thing I want to clear up though--the "boom mic mistakes: so many folks mention. The boom mic that intrudes in to several shots in the home video version (which is the only version we have, unfortunately)is NOT A MISTAKE BY THE DIRECTOR OR THE CINEMATOGRAPHER. It is an error in the transfer of the film to the home video format.

Many 1.85:1 widescreen films shot in the 80s and 90s were really shot at 1.33:1, non-anamorphic. The "widescreen" effect was then achieved by masking off the top and bottom of the image. Sometimes the studios did this on the print itself, but sometimes they would leave it to the projectionist in the theater--if he/she projected it so that each side reached the edge of the screen and centered the imaged vertically, the "masking" was achieved simply because the top and bottom of the image was bleeding off the screen. I know that was done because back in the day I saw several films where the projectionist did not center the image vertically and all kinds of stuff the audience was never meant to see would be visible--boom mics, lights, rigging, and etc. I have specific memories of seeing this in "Cheech and Chong's Next Movie" and Richard Pryor's "Busting Loose." So, if the folks who released "The Dark Wind" to home video back in the day had given a crap, they'd have either 1) masked the film to 1.85:1 or cropped it in on ALL sides for a proper old-type TV 1.33:1 ratio.

Anyway, if you have a widescreen TV (and wide is the norm now) all you have to do is blow up the image so that the right and left sides of the image go all the way to the edge and the tops and bottoms get cut off(on my Samsung it's the "Zoom 1" setting). THEN you'll see the image as it was meant to be framed, with no boom mics in sight. AND, I might add, the landscapes and other scenes will look much more impressive as well, as it emphasizes the wide horizons.
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A contemporary western thriller that almost hits it's mark.
thefreakyboutiki7 April 2014
While I've not seen the subsequent Redford produced adaptations of Hillerman's Skinwalkers, Coyote Waits (w/Adam Beach as Chee), or A Thief of Time (w/Gary Farmer returning to the Hillerverse as Captain Largo), I think any of those would have been a more universally digestible initial film. The Dark Wind is one of his most complex and perhaps a more seasoned dramatic director rather than a documentarian would have been a wiser choice. I really wished LDP, still enjoying young lion status from his roles in La Bamba and Young Guns, had optioned the rights to a couple more Hillerman stories. I truly enjoyed his subtle, soft spoken Jim Chee and his chemistry with the always excellent Gary Farmer's Dashee.
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Lou speaks good Navajo; producers send film straight to video.
gwoodard28 November 2001
Having grown up in Northern Arizona and living next to the Navajo Reservation, I was very excited when Hillerman's book became a movie; until I saw it. Navajo friends told me that Lou Diamond Phillips actually spoke pretty good Navajo in the film. It's too bad those in charge of production didn't care enough to make the quality film this story should have been. When you see microphones dangling during key scenes (or any scene for that matter) you know somebody didn't give a rip about this project.
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Worth the effort
shoobe01-120 August 2016
This is not an easy movie to watch. I mean technically, not morally. • It is slow at first. Not ponderous, but unsure. Stick with it. • Audio is horrible, and there are no subtitles; too much internal monologue for this. Turn it up and pay attention. • It is not cropped right. Zoom your DVD player or TV.

It is clear that it was a lost project, barely released. The beginning is the worst. There's much complaint that it changes tone and shifts to action at the end, but the beginning is more of a problem to me. It is easy to dismiss the first 30-40 minutes because forget Chee, the FILM is unsure of itself. I suspect this isn't just a first act editing issue, but an overall editing issue. It's almost two hours, and probably would have worked fine at more like 90 minutes.

Forget just fixing the booms in shot; as mentioned elsewhere, when you watch it fullscreen, it's not even MOTW quality. Crop it 16:9 (which isn't perfect, but close) and it's a miracle. The whole tone of the film changes, and it's much more edgy, even a bit worrying.

And most of all, once you get past the rest of this, the story totally works. How Chee develops over time is almost a film class worthy case study. He doesn't keep being an unsure greenhorn, or magically go kung fu fighting at the end, but slowly gets his bearings, gets the information, and gets the nerve. Organically, and as part of his culture.

This needs a directors cut, badly. Just come back, re-edit, remaster the sound, and color grade it for a bit more consistency and drama. Most night scenes are just a tiny bit too flat (especially the FX lightning) and could be much improved.
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Tedious long-winded and somewhat dull
harry-7727 June 1999
Any film that is overloaded with voice-over narration to explain the shortcomings of the script deserves a slap on the wrist. I had not read the novel from which this is supposedly taken, and only watched because I knew Lou Diamond Phillips when he was a student here in Dallas before he became famous... and it is obvious this was one of his very early films. He looks innocently sweet and precious but seems to be struggling beneath a script that is sorely lacking. Makes me, as a screenwriter, wonder how on earth any producer plonked down the dough to make this film in the first place....
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One of the worst movies I have ever seen; ever.
outrider0127 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This is the most awful movie ever made. It was great to laugh at however. The boom mic falls about a foot in to picture during two scenes, including the climax. Also characters seem to give out evil and over exaggerated laughs for no apparent reason. And what is with the little random white kid sitting on the bed of the water shamen, handing out cigarettes. Also the plot seems to just drift around aimlessly. Characters are thrown in for no apparent reason, then forgotten about. Stupid meaningless references are thrown in like the very first bootleggers coming back at the end. What is the point? Also a great scene to laugh at was when Lou Diamond was solving this brain buster of a mystery and kept writing "why?" on his paper.

Watch this movie and try not to laugh at it, I dare you.
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