Saturday, April 18, 2009

THE STALKING MOON (Robert Mulligan, 1968, USA) A father seeks to liberate his son from the dirty white hands of bondage; quiet as the pale moonlight, he stalks his son’s oppressors killing all who get in his way. Sam Varner is a retired Army Scout, who reluctantly agrees to escort a white woman and her half-breed son to Tilverton, a windswept town growing from the dust and grit of an angry frontier. Director Robert Mulligan has filmed a parable concerning the rape of the virgin land, stolen from the native Americans who fight to retain their way of life and cultural dignity. But the moral morass is subtle with echoes of sea change, as the future bears down upon these indigenous peoples like an unstoppable steam engine. Gregory Peck as Sam Varner is a good man imbued with integrity and kindheartedness; he is not an inhuman monster whose goal is genocide. He decides to help Sara Carver and her son because it’s the right thing to do, not for personal benefit. Mulligan shows us the awkward silences between these disparate characters as they struggle to understand and communicate, and it’s in these monotonous moments that true insight is revealed. The violence is kept off-screen until the final act, which creates a suspenseful drama as Salvaje tracks our protagonists across the majestic mountains and amber fields of grain. The hunter is never shown; allusions to his murderous exploits only heighten the tension, as his approach becomes the coming storm, a vengeful act of god. When the family reaches their new home, they must defend themselves against Salvaje’s rampage, and the beautiful cinematography imposes a natural and elemental vibrancy to the violent bloodletting. Varner protects the boy and his mother but never condemns or judges the Indian warrior, a father in search of his heir: and herein lies the power of the drama, where it breaks with convention. This is a thriller that doesn’t concern itself with a dreary polemic but instead focuses upon survival: each character acts upon instinct that they believe is ethical and justified. An understated masterpiece, THE STALKING MOON should shine its light upon your open mind. (B)

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