Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
I love discussing movies with one of my co-workers. He loves films just as much as I do and often times, one of us will turn the other on to a movie that they have never seen before. One such recommendation led me to the 2007 action film set in the early days of the New World entitled Pathfinder.
In Pathfinder, a young Viking boy (Burkley Duffield), the sole survivor of his expedition into the New World, is found by a Native American woman (Michelle Thrush) and brought back to her tribe. The tribe is reluctant to take in a boy so different from their own and from such a violent clan of people, but, as the woman who found him points out, setting the boy off on his own would be just as cruel as his former clan were known to be. With the blessing of the tribe, she and her husband (Wayne Charles Baker) raise the boy as their own, naming him Ghost because he is so fair-skinned.
Flash forward fifteen years later and Ghost (Karl Urban), now an adult, is a beloved member of his tribe. When they are visited by another offshoot of the tribe, Ghost meets the Pathfinder (Russell Means) and his daughter Starfire (Moon Bloodgood). Starfire and Ghost instantly take to one another, but the Pathfinder, wise beyond his years, believes that Ghost is not ready to become on of the braves. Sensing that Ghost has not truly mastered his demons, Pathfinder tells him that he must find out who he truly is before he can truly be accepted as one of them.
It is shortly after the Pathfinder and his people leave, that a new expedition of Vikings arrives. Ghost is off hunting when the Vikings invade his village, destroying it and killing all in their path, not even sparing the youngest child. Ghost attempts to avenge his people, but there are too many of them and he is forced to escape.
Wounded and barely alive, Ghost is found by the Pathfinder's people and, though in his delirium he warns them against doing so, he is brought back to their village. Unfortunately, the Vikings, under the leadership of Gunnar (Clancy Brown) and Ulfar (Ralf Meoller), have been tracking Ghost, hoping that he will lead them to more "savages." Ghost warns the Pathfinder and his people about what kind of monsters the Vikings are and advises them to leave. The Pathfinder agrees and leads his people one way, while Ghost takes his own path, hoping to lead the Vikings away from his chosen people. Can the anger and vengeance feeding his heart be enough to help him destroy the invaders bent on killing his adopted clan?
One of the biggest problems my co-worker has in describing movies is he usually gives away to many details. That being said, although I already knew just what was going to happen in Pathfinder and research had already told me it was a box office flop, I still decided to rent it. It just sounded so interesting I couldn't miss out on the film. Having read up on the explorers of the New World and Native Americans throughout my life, I had no preconceived notions that the film would be historically accurate, so no disappointments on that front were expected to be in my future. I just wanted to see a good action flick.
And so I did. There isn't a great deal of heavy dialogue in this film - definitely nothing that would win critical praise for dramatic prose. Subtitles were used only for the Vikings as a majority of the talking would be done by the Native Americans and perhaps the filmmakers thought the film wouldn't do well if it was fully subtitled. But the main acting came not in the form of words spoken, but in facial expressions. Karl Urban was incredible at expressing Ghost's happiness amongst his adopted tribe and incredible sadness after they are slaughtered by people of his own blood. Blood Moongold is equally as expressive, showing her love for her people and for Ghost without uttering but a few sentences.
Most of the expressive dialogue belonged to Russell Means and Clancy Brown, but Means wins out for impressive performances. Clancy Brown has a habit of playing harsh, rough around the edges and sometimes incredibly dangerous characters and I found nothing really different about his performance as Gunnar. Although Russell Means has portrayed wise Native American tribe members before (remember Older Running Fox in Into the West?), there is something about his portrayal of Pathfinder that makes you believe in his character...that gives you the sense that he knows something about the world and the ways of man that we are yet to learn.
As for the plot - well, there isn't much said about Native American contact by the Vikings in history books, but I'm certain there was some. I'm equally certain that the contact could have gone either way - good or bad. Pathfinder represents one side of the coin as has been exhibited by later explorations of the New World - certain names come to mind such as Columbus, Cortes and Pizarro. When one thinks of these individuals, it is not farfetched to imagine that the same reception would be given to Native Americans by Norsemen.
The love story between Ghost and Starfire is a side story and not much in importance in the film. In fact, although the main story is Ghost and his coming to grips with his past so he can embrace his present, the secondary story involves Starfire coming into her own. While I consider what happens to Starfire by the end of the film to be less in keeping with what we know about the Native American culture of the time period in which the film takes place, I still liked how things worked out.
The action in the film is epic, with chases through the woods, sword battles, arrows flying, chains, spears and even a sled chase scene. There is little attention to detail regarding the clothing of the era, so be forewarned. The helmets make for nice visual footage during battles, but they are hardly historically realistic. But there is some attention paid to the hunting tactics of the Native American warriors and how they used these tactics to sneak up on their adversaries. Very well done, if you ask me.
If you are looking for a historically accurate epic adventure, you'll probably want to pass on Pathfinder. If you were looking for an action film with steamy love scenes...yeah, pass. But if you are looking for an action film with some badass fight scenes and incredible adrenaline pumping action, look no further than Pathfinder. Thanks, buddy, you were right about this one!