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By Bob Westal | January 25, 2005

How do you give a liberal indigestion?

Well, bad goat cheese can be very effective, but another way is to make him review a film about an ultra-left radical prone to extreme statements likely to give ammunition to the Ann Coulterish right, but who also kinda sorta maybe has a point. Throw in a certain amount of talent, the ability to survive complete tragedy, and an apparent near-complete lack of a sense of humor and excessive confidence in his own complete lock on the truth, and you have a potent cocktail of nerves indeed.

On the other hand, if anyone has the right to “hate America” (or, far more accurately, the American government and corporate power structure) or to call for an end to Western Civilization as we know it, it’s an American Indian. Particularly an American Indian activist whose wife and three children were killed in a mysterious fire within a day of burning a U.S. flag on the steps of FBI headquarters. John Trudell is, undoubtedly, one of the best known names in the Native American movement. He was a key player in the peaceful 1969-1971 takeover of Alcatraz Island. And, in the wake of his personal cataclysm eight years later, Trudell also emerged as an acclaimed poet and performer. His work with musicians like Jesse Ed Davis has earned praise from Bob Dylan, and he’s acquired a long list of celebrity friends and admirers ranging from Robert Redford and Bonnie Raitt to Val Kilmer and (not featured in “Trudell”) Angelina Jolie.

Frankly, while “Trudell” has a few interesting and emotional moments in its second half, from the start it is badly hobbled by its worshipful tone. To my mind, John Trudell often starts with the truth, but then he leaps over it to say and do a lot of things that are highly questionable or worse. Politics aside, he ought to be questioned — if only to make for a more interesting documentary.

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