“The Wind and the Reckoning” is the poetic title of a modestly-budgeted but informative and sometimes moving historical thriller set during the days of The Republic of Hawaii.
That was the government set up by an American-backed coup in the 1890s that ousted the island chain’s traditional rulers in favor of an non-native Hawaiian oligarchy that would run things while lobbying Washington to claim Hawaii as a territory.
The film, a history lesson written by the screenwriter of “Hidalgo,” “The Forbidden Kingdom” and “The Highwaymen,” tells the true story of a Leper War which errupted in 1893, a fight over forced resettlement of those infected with the disease — imported to Hawaii by foreigners in the mid-19th century.
The new “white” government took policies meant to curb leprosy — one of several imported contagions which the natives had no immunity against — to draconian extremes, arresting people thought to be infected via a “bounty” system which had armed men looking for lepers to ship off the the colony set up on the remote, almost unreachable Kalaupapa peninsula.
The story is told by Pi’ilani (Lindsahy Marie Anuhea Watson), the young bride of a native Hawaian cowboy, Ko’olau, played by Jason Scott Lee. They work on “Uncle” Sinclair’s (Patrick Gilbert) ranch until that day that word gets out their young surfer son (Kahiau Perreira) is sick. Ko’olau is breaking out, too, but not Pi’ilani.
They make plans to flee, but the sheriff (Matt Corboy) and a posses of ruffians (one of them is played by the late Lance Kerwin) charge in before they can escape, a stand-off over “legitimate” authority ensues, shots are fired and “haole” blood is spilled.
The family is on the run into the jungles and up the cliffs of Kauai. The new government decides to make an example of the trio and sends a mercenary force led by an Army beteran (Henry Ian Cusick) and a Hawaiian-born tracker and marshal (Johnathan Schaech).
The family throws in with other fleeing locals, who could prove to be a thorn in the side of a new “republic” whose legitimacy is very much in doubt, with a Democratic president and much of the U.S. decrying “imperialism,” and not just the version practiced in Europe.
That’s an awful lot of baggage for this slim script to tote, and with a lot of Hawaiian language sequences (with subtitles) further complicating matters. So screenwriter John Fusco skips over some of it and leaves out much more.
Getting into the whole business of the connection between the “President” Dole running the new “republic” and the big fruit concern that would begin just as the U.S., under a new Republican president, would take possession of the islands, would be messy, so that’s probably wise.
But lacking some of that context robs the picture of the stakes of this uprising, and leaves us with a simple on-the-lam-from-the-law pursuit through some of the most gorgeous scenery on Earth.
And director David L. Cunningham may know Hawaii (“Running for Grace” was his). But the guy who made “The Seeker: The Dark is Rising” has a very hard time keeping this picture on the run. It sort of stumbles from fight to fight.
Lee makes a sturdy lead, Watson a passionate keeper of the family faith and Cusick a fine racist, murderous and alcoholic villain. But the confrontations turn repetitive and the connecting scenes lack the urgency of “running for our lives.”
Other characters (Kelemete Misipeka plays “the judge”) give the film local color, as if the cliffs, jungles and farmland of Hawaii wasn’t enough.
But a few emotional moments, a couple of exciting firefights and a lot of murky debate about the issues, the politics and the morality of what’s happened to the government and what could happen to the people leave “The Wind and the Reckoning” with an incomplete feeling.
Which is why I’ve provided “for further reading” links. The story absolutely demands them.
Rating: unrated, violence
Cast: Jason Scott Lee, Lindsay Marie Anuhea Watson, Ron Yuan, Kahiau Perreira, Matt Corboy, Kelemete Misipeka, Lance Kerwin, Henry Ian Cusick and Johnathan Schaech.
Credits: Directed by David L. Cunningham, scripted by John Fusco. A Lynmar release.
Running time: 1:34