The Barenaked Archive: End of the Spear

Last night I hit panic mode as I realized the only non-school-related stuff I’d done this week involved watching disc 2 of Neon Genesis Evangelion and playing copious amounts of board games with my brother and his roommates. In other words, I hadn’t watched a movie in almost seven days, a record for me since probably January 2004.
Thus, in desperation and with absolutely no desire to drive north to the AMC theater in Oklahoma City (where, at the time, they were showing Paradise Now, Match Point, and The Squid and the Whale), I headed to the Norman theater to catch a 7 p.m. showing of End of the Spear.

All I know about the movie going in was that the production company, Every Tribe Entertainment, was based in Oklahoma City, and that the film was based on a true story of five missionaries who were killed by the very tribe they were seeking to help.

The movie opens with two men taking a canoe down a river in Ecuador’s part of the Amazon rain forest. One is Mincayani, a Waodani and native Ecuadorian. The other is Steve Saint, an American who spent most of his childhood in Ecuador thanks to his missionary father, Nate.

It’s then that the movie takes us back to 1943, to Mincayani’s boyhood in the rainforest. His Waodani tribe is considered one of the most violent in the world, and not even women and children are safe from what seems like daily attacks. They have very little contact with the outside world, and refer to everybody who comes from there as “foreigners.”

A “foreigner” is exactly what Nate Saint and his four missionary friends are. They’ve been trying for some time to make contact with the Waodani, and they live with their families in the Amazon jungle, connected to the outside world only by CB radio and Nate’s little plane. When they finally make contact, though, the Waodani attack, and all five men are killed.

Sometime later, however, Nate’s sister Rachel goes to live with the Waodani, the same family group that killed her brother. The other female family members of the missionaries and their children, including young Steve, also go to visit or live with the tribe, to continue the mission that their husbands died for.

Honestly, there’s a very moving story here about forgiveness and redemption, and by the end you may be asking yourself if you could look into the eyes of the man who killed your father and not only tell him that you forgive him, but become a part of his family. It’s a refreshing look at some real Christian ideas, instead of the minority of the crazy intolerant ones that seem to be getting all the press lately.

The problem is that that story isn’t told very well. It’s not the acting at all; the actors all do very well in their roles, especially Louie Leonardo, who plays Mincayani, and Chad Allen, who plays both Nate Saint and the grown-up version of Steve. It’s just the way the movie’s put together seems a little amateurish.

Several times, especially in the beginning during the night attack on Mincayani’s tribe, the camera seems to be too close to the action or to the characters, and it’s difficult to tell what’s going on. There are also a lot of airplane shots, where the little yellow plane is just flying around the jungle and while I do appreciate the beauty of the rain forest, it got to be just a little tedious.

And though the movie starts out with Steve and Mincayani on the river, we don’t return to them until the last few minutes of the movie. The bulk of the action takes place during Steve’s childhood. You get to know Steve (or at least Steve as a kid), and you get to know Mincayani, but you don’t see them together until the end.

The real climax of the movie is when Mincayani confesses that he killed Steve’s father, but before this point we’ve never even seen them have a conversation. What’s the relationship between Mincayani and Steve? Are they close friends? Acquaintances? Or do they not even really like each other? The climax could’ve been so much more powerful if their relationship had been established for the audience, and not just through the voiceover.

Ultimately, End of the Spear is a good story with not-so-good execution. If you go see it in the theater, you probably won’t wind up wishing for your money back, but you’d be just as well off waiting for the DVD.