Lacrosse is a good fit for the big screen
What “Cool Runnings” did for bobsledding and “Mighty Ducks” for youth hockey, “Crooked Arrows” should do for lacrosse. Billed as the first mainstream lacrosse movie (much of it was filmed around Boston, including game scenes at St. John’s Prep, in Danvers), the action sequences don’t disappoint. More important, the story is unique and engaging enough to transcend the uplifting sports-underdog formula.
During the film’s big game, one clueless fan turns to another and asks, “When did the Indians start playing lacrosse?” “Crooked Arrows” takes great care to establish cultural and historical context for “the Creator’s game.” It opens with the Haudenosaunee (also called Iroquois), which includes the Mohawks, Cayugas, Onondagas, Oneidas, Senecas, and Tuscaroras, playing an ancient version of lacrosse nearly identical to the aggressive sport of today. Cut to the present, with the fictional Sunnaquot Nation on a reservation in central New York. Its high school lacrosse team is as ill-equipped and under-funded as the trailer that serves as a classroom. Enter John Logan (Brandon Routh), a half-Native American from the reservation who was once a lacrosse star at Coventry, the prep school that dominates lacrosse in the region. He’s now the slick promoter of a casino that wants to expand on more Indian land.
John’s father (Gil Birmingham) trades tribal approval for the deal for his son’s promise to coach the struggling team. John’s personal journey is as predictable as the path to the big game, but “Crooked Arrows” offers such a refreshing milieu that it manages to get beyond triumph-of-the-underdog conventions. The film wisely casts real lacrosse players, and they’re a pleasure to watch, including John’s feisty young sister Nadie (Chelsea Ricketts), who ably coaches the team; current Onondaga Redhawk player Tyler Hill as the team’s star, Silverfoot; Cree Cathers, a natural as the clownish Chewy; and Wellesley’s Jack Vandervelde, as the only non-native kid on the team, Toby, the son of the reservation’s high school teacher and language expert, Julie (Crystal Allen). Sportscaster Sean McDonough has a nice cameo as the announcer for ESPN’s coverage of the championship game.
The long road to production for Crooked Arrows included getting Onondaga Nation approval, which explains a couple of reverent scenes with a wise tribal elder (Dennis Ambriz), who delivers a lesson about lacrosses sacred roots and bestows hand-carved game sticks on the players.
But this also provides the film with a colorful community that has as much at stake in the team’s fortunes as, say, the steel mill workers of “All the Right Moves” or the Indiana farmers of “Hoosiers.” “Crooked Arrows” scores as a family film that delivers cultural history along with some terrific action sequences of a sport that finally gets its big screen due.
Loren King can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect name for the Indian tribe in the film. Its Sunnaquot, not Onondaga.