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Cirio H. Santiago
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The problem with a lot of recent Canadian cinema (at least anglophone Canadian cinema) is that the filmmakers are stuck in an idiotic post-modern frame of mind. If they aren't trying to create inferior copies of other Western films, they've got their heads hopelessly rooted in the notion of indie, small-market culture.
That and, I suppose, a general lack of talent is the problems.
"Stryker", from Noam Gonick, the director of the delirious "Hey Happy" comes like a breath of fresh air, a glistening golden exception to prove that depressing rule.
The film showcases a slice of life that most people would throw out with the tin dish -- the aboriginal subculture of Winnipeg's troubled North End.
No, Gonick is not himself aboriginal. But we are told that Nicholas Ray spent weeks cruising with L.A. street gangs in preparation for the brilliant "Rebel Without a Cause", and Gonick has certainly outdone that feat, apparently spending much of his time with the kind of gangs he showcases.
But unlike Ray's cosmic vision, Gonick's Winnipeg gangsters live virtually meaningless lives, and their tragic desperation is never far from sight.
But hold on, here comes the shocker. This Canadian indie "issue" film is actually great entertainment. That's right, a Canuck filmmaker with social qualms for once has the cinematic good sense, and a considerable amount of talent, to make his movie enjoyable.
"Stryker" is funny and demented and sometimes completely off-the-wall. It is personalised to an extent that makes it an amusement park ride of a film, but with smiling good spirit, without the destructive impulse to take the bizarre seriously that has made "prarie cinema" a curse word.
"Stryker" is a spaghetti Western gang war flick about a native kid without a past or a name or much of a vocabulary who moseys into a turf war between the true-to-life "Indian Posse" and the rather over-the-top "Asian Bomb Squad". The developments of the gang war and the mute hero's journey take on a kind of mythic resonance through Gonick's sheer narrative enthusiasm, with plenty of interesting characters popping up along the way.
And when the final frame rolls, a message has emerged, almost covertly, about the native people's predicament, a message that (as the opening credits hint) stretches back to colonial roots.
It is a thought-provoking "issue" film to be sure, but one with a great hip-hop score and gay Asian stripteases. The exuberance, excess, and undeniable originality of this picture make it a totally absorbing experience, with Ed Lachman's wonderful cinematography providing a lingering, gritty beauty to wrap it in.
"Stryker" is one of the best Canadian films of recent years.
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