If you just read Ty Burr's review of Terrence Malick's ''The New World" and are thinking, ''I'd to like to see a chattier and somehow more grandiose tale of indigenous peoples and their fragile bond with white outsiders," ''End of the Spear" is what you want. It's not remotely as luscious or half as bold as Malick's movie, but it is shorter and more educational.
Set in the Ecuadoran jungle in the
The tribe is a squabbling bunch whose members seem to have no problem fatally impaling one other with spears. This has won them a savage reputation and has also brought them to the brink of extinction. But Nathaniel and his fellow missionaries descend upon the tribe in the hopes of saving it. (The movie was shot in Panama and used the country's Embera Indians and their language to get the film made.)
One Waodani, Gimade (Ninabet Bedoya), is miserable that her sister Dayumae (Christina Souza) has left the tribe. Unbeknownst to her, Dayumae happens to be living happily among the missionaries, who've just landed near the Waodani village. But after one testy tribesman fibs to his chief, Mincayani (Louie Leonardo), that the missionaries ate Dayumae, hell breaks loose and the white men are killed in an unsparing sequence.
Not long after the massacre, however, Dayumae leads Nathaniel's good-hearted widow, little Steve, and the sister of another slain missionary to the Waodani village, where everyone makes amends and lives more or less harmoniously for years. Improbable but -- attesting to the apparent boundlessness of Christian tolerance -- true. ''End of the Spear" means to impart messages of forgiveness and forbearance, and, obviously, we are meant to be moved.
But ''End of the Spear" is an adventure movie before it is anything else. Last year, the director, Jim Hanon, put out a documentary, ''Beyond the Gates of Splendor," that covered the same material. For round two, he seems thrilled to have cranes, Steadicams, and helicopter shots at his disposal. The percussive score pulses and soars like music from a generic jungle flick (it falls into a musical category that Variety recently called ''orchestral with ethnic elements").
The characters, however, are not as exhilarating or well conceived as any of the action sequences are well choreographed. This is too bad because the true story is such a fascinating convergence of earnestness and incivility. Hector Babenco's longer, loopier 1991 adaptation of ''At Play in the Fields of the Lord" deals with similar travails of Indians and white missionaries in South America, but it actually gets its hands dirty sorting out the religious and moral conflicts. ''End of the Spear" is tidier, more didactic, and less exceptional. Not an emotional powerhouse so much as a dutiful public service announcement.
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.