Four Sheets to the Wind



PARK CITY -- In the past, Sundance has presented such gloriously entertaining, off-center American Indian films as "Pow-Wow Highway" and "Smoke Signals." That tradition continues with this enchanting and decidedly idiosyncratic dramatic entrant, "Four Sheets to the Wind." A captivating crowd-pleaser here at Sundance, "Four Sheets" should be a strong contender for the audience award.

Framed with a playfully wise voice-over of an American Indian who has just died and requested his son, Cufe, to place his body in a pond rather than endure the hoopla of a modern funeral, "Four Sheets" ripples with a wise and playful flurry. The old man's death enlivens Cufe (Cody Lightning), pushing him to venture from his reservation comfort-zone. Reflecting on his father's death, Cufe senses that his life depends on his getting off the reservation: He realizes that his current life of roofing and drinking is itself no life at all.

Nonetheless, Cufe is no young man with a yearning wanderlust, and he is able to make this leap of life only because he has a sister, Miri (Tamara Podemski) in the big city -- Tulsa, no less. Cufe finds her enduring on the fringes, laboring at a menial job and partying with horny rednecks. Nonetheless, the new land is inspiring to Cufe, in part because he meets a likable and adventurous young Caucasian (Laura Bailey) who appreciates his low-key wisdom and beguiling charm.

In the best tradition of coming-of-age films, "Four Sheets" weaves a personal story that transcends any specific heritage or geographic setting. Although the narrative is culture specific, set in Oklahoma and centering on a young Seminole/Creek American, it translates to universal human truths.

The performances are richly subdued. Lightning's portrayal of Cufe is superb, capturing the young man's reserved strength -- something he never knew he had. Podemski's performance as his hard-drinking sister shows the young woman's fears and loneliness, while Bailey is captivating as Cufe's new big-city flame.

Under filmmaker Sterlin Harjo's firm but whimsical hand, "Four Sheets" enchants, in large part because of its talented technical team. In particular, Jeff Johnston's score is an inspired mix: His sounds pulsate with kick-ass serenity, splendidly in sync with Cufe's own inner rhythms.

Indion Entertainment Group
Screenwriter-director: Sterlin Harjo
Producers: Chad Burris, Ted Kroeber
Executive producer: Cheyenne Fletcher
Director of photography: Frederick Schroeder
Production designer: Carla Marie Rugg
Music: Jeff Johnston
Cufe Smallhill: Cody Lightning
Cora Smallhill: Jeri Arredondo
Miri Smallhill: Tamara Podemski
Francie: Laura Bailey
Frankie Smallhill: Richard Ray Whitman
David: Christian Kane
Sonny: Mike Randleman
Running time -- 90 minutes
No MPAA rating