Based on true events that inspired a Life story in the 1950s, Jim Hanon's bizarre yet gripping jungle-adventure drama relates the intertwined stories of Mincayani (Leonardo), a fearsome Waodani Indian from Ecuador, and Nate Saint (Allen), an American missionary who was speared to death by Mincayani and his kinsmen in the Amazonian basin. Told from the perspective of Steve (Ellison), Nate's eight-year-old son, the film depicts how the surviving family members—women and children—re-entered the rainforest with Dayumae (Christina Souza), a young Waodani woman who'd fled the tribe years before, and converted Mincayani's people from warlike hunter-gatherers into Christian pietists.
Poised somewhere between The Emerald Forest and The Passion of the Christ, Hanon's messianic film is concerned with the clash of civilizations, and the possibility of peace and reconciliation. Avoiding most white-colonialist clichs, the Waodani are etched with complexity and compassion, as we glimpse their attitudes toward war and death, family and tradition, as well as their deep-seated fear of "foreigners." So it's maddening when the film's stealth evangelical message equates redemption with the saving light of Christian morality. While this doesn't diminish the engrossing yarn that precedes it—or the astonishing fact that Steve and Mincayani, the man who killed his father, are now as close as blood relatives—if you're not down with Gospel truth, dodge this Spear. (Opens Fri; see Now playing for venues.) —Damon Smith