Tales of redemption come in many shades, some esoteric others pronounced. Road to Paloma is of the former. Following the adventure of a Native American called Wolf who is fleeing the law after murdering the man who raped and killed his mother, he gains the companionship of fellow biker, and sets out to redeem his spirit through self-sacrifice; complicating factors include federal agents and local police yet even still it doesn’t deter Wolf in accomplishing his goal and searching for the means to end his troubled soul.
The story is interesting. More surprisingly the film is quite progressive. The depictions of poverty and its induced dysfunction among the Native populace is strikingly poignant in its portrayal of White-Native relations; whether it is tribal police delivering a subdued “F-you” to the FBI agents by their allegation of racism, or strong stance against rape culture, the movie manages to represent how the oppressed working class is able to handle their own issues despite interference from the invading government.
A component of this self-determination is the recurring motifs of motorbikes. As odd as it may sound these vehicles are allegories for freedom. In every scene which a motorcycle is seen, and in this movie it means most of the scenes, it is associated with joy, frivolity, assault against patriarchal privilege (as seen in the scene where they defend a woman being attacked), and even capitalistic relations (in both defiance of giving the police information and avoiding paying the tab at a diner, each of which are vital scenes in terms of character development). The additional fact that the forces of the government, as represented by the White men, are the antagonists trying to dispense a kind of vigilante justice which harasses innocent people, marks the tone of the film not merely as dark but as a bone to pick with contemporary socioeconomic race-relations. The moving (no pun intended) vehicle of this ideological content is the wayward, lower class instrument of motorbikes as juxtaposed against the antagonist’s cars. An odd analysis perhaps but relevant all the same.
This being said the film is not in any way a piece of propaganda for revolution. The protagonists never agitate for an alternative system and are complacent in its evils; they defend women but never promote feminism, ultimately resulting in a subdued sort of chauvinism; they refuse to pay the diner bill only because they have no money and so they work their debt off in the kitchen; they defy the state but never take practical action against its existence. So as with most films it is divided. Even so, I was surprised how unexpectedly progressive it was since when one pops in one of these R-rated movies painfully geared with its macho artwork towards young males, you expect a non-stop testosterone fest, not a statement of ambivalence against the ills of racism.
Other than the material-ideological content of the movie the cinematography is spectacular. Shots of mountains, rivers, desolate roads, and people at the end of their rope litter the movie from beginning to end. Truly, along with the soundtrack backing it up, the world of this road is beautiful as it is real. So this being said the acting by all is splendid and brings an appropriate amount of grandeur to the vibrant environment. In total the package comes together far better than initially assumed. Far from being just another grandiose action flick, Road to Paloma is a serious glimpse into the troubles of modern Native Americans.