Reservation Crime Drama ‘Dark Winds’ Gives Zahn McClarnon an Overdue Spotlight: TV Review
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Reservation Crime Drama ‘Dark Winds’ Gives Zahn McClarnon an Overdue Spotlight: TV Review

Variety review:

Early in the first episode of AMC’s new series “Dark Winds,” Zahn McClarnon’s Joe Leaphorn advises Kiowa Gordon’s Jim Chee about a way to get ahead when investigating crimes on a Navajo reservation. Leaphorn’s been doing this for a while, and isn’t impressed by his new deputy’s credentials, or his naked ambition; sometimes, pragmatic approaches are best, so Leaphorn advises Chee to keep a carton of cigarettes around. On the reservation, people will say more for a pack, he says, “than in an interrogation room.”

It’s a nicely chosen detail — one that speaks to its setting, its time period (the show is set in the early 1970s, when the Tony Hillerman-penned book series on which it’s based first was published), and the dynamic between the pair. Leaphorn is the wellspring of knowledge about law enforcement among the Navajo. And Chee, possessed with more ambition than street smarts, and happily ensconced in white America prior to being called back home, needs help relating to the community. Both men went to college, but Leaphorn returned home, while Chee, his eyes opened and his assimilation well underway, needed to be summoned back.

McClarnon is a tight, intuitively calibrated coil of frustration throughout “Dark Winds”; the actor, familiar from roles in “Reservation Dogs,” “Westworld” (on which he anchored the standout episode “Kiksuya” in 2018), and “Fargo,” gets a well-deserved turn at the center of the frame, and makes the most of every minute onscreen, including in effective acting duets with Gordon and with Deanna Allison, who plays his wife. The script asks a lot of McClarnon, who serves as viewers’ guide through a web of mysteries that includes an armed robbery complete with crooks escaping by helicopter, as well as bodies turning up dead on the reservation — where the involvement of the FBI, in the person of Noah Emmerich’s Agent Whitover, is unwelcome.

It seems no mistake that one can’t spell “Whitover” without “white”: He comes to represent a snarlingly high-handed approach to policing in a community he doesn’t attempt to understand, and he represents an endless source of temptation for Chee, appealing to the latter man’s vanity in presenting an entirely different vision of how to relate to Native life as a law-enforcement officer. (Emmerich, for many seasons the ultimate nice-guy FBI agent on “The Americans,” relishes each bit of scenery he chews here.) But Whitover is an accent on a story that’s gratifyingly tightly told and focused on its core ensemble and their world.

Produced by a team including Robert Redford, George R. R. Martin, and filmmaker Chris Eyre, and written by an entirely-Native writers’ room, “Dark Winds” has an admirable directness of approach: It doesn’t slow down to explain itself to viewers, trusting that its milieu will come through loud and clear. In the wake of the very different, low-key comedy “Reservation Dogs” last year, “Dark Winds” provides yet more proof of the power of high-quality representation, allowing Native people to lend their perspective and history to the types of stories that are fundamental to American entertainment. Seen a certain way, Joe Leaphorn is an archetypal cop, as familiar as Perry Mason; seen another, he represents something that is unfortunately new on our screens, and welcome all the same.

“Dark Winds” premieres on AMC and AMC+ Sunday, June 12 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

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Dark Winds Review: Zahn McClarnon Leads A Solid Cast In AMC’s Navajo-Centric Foray Into Genre Thrills
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Dark Winds Review: Zahn McClarnon Leads A Solid Cast In AMC’s Navajo-Centric Foray Into Genre Thrills

slashfilm review:

Zahn McClarnon should have starred in his own TV series a long time ago. The instinct to make him more of a main character was there toward the end of “Fargo” season 2, where he played the mercurial enforcer Hanzee, and since then, we’ve seen McClarnon costar or take on a recurring role in shows like “Westworld,” “Barkskins,” “Reservation Dogs,” and “Hawkeye.” However, in “Dark Winds,” which premieres on AMC and AMC+ on June 12, the actor is front and center in a noir thriller with a writers’ room made up of Native American voices.

“Dark Winds” hails from creator Graham Roland and showrunner Vince Calandra, both alums of Prime Video’s “Jack Ryan.” The show counts George R.R. Martin and Robert Redford among its executive producers, and it’s based on the “Leaphorn & Chee” series of crime novels by Tony Hillerman. McClarnon plays the Navajo Tribal Police officer Joe Leaphorn, a role that the late Fred Ward inhabited in the 1991 film “The Dark Wind.”

The network has touted this as a series made “with the full support and blessing of The Navajo Nation,” and it helicopters the viewer over the buttes of Monument Valley and sets them down in the early 1970s without feeling the need to over-explain aspects of Indigenous culture such as the Kinaaldá running ritual. “Dark Winds” knows what an asset it has in McClarnon, who brings a soulful presence to the Leaphorn character, but the series also makes good use of his “Red Road” cohort, Kiowa Gordon, as well as Jessica Matten (“The Empty Man”).

Together, these three actors, all of whom share a natural chemistry, form the magnetic core of “Dark Winds,” which overcomes its occasionally pedestrian genre thrills with a unique sense of place and people that keep it watchable for six episodes.
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‘Dark Winds’ Review: Zahn McClarnon Shines in a Show About Seeking Justice in an Unjust World
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‘Dark Winds’ Review: Zahn McClarnon Shines in a Show About Seeking Justice in an Unjust World

collider.com reviews Dark Winds:

The veteran actor elevates this adaptation of the Tony Hillerman mystery novels.

In the many archetypal stories about crime that proliferate on television, conflict is derived from the disruption of justice where the police must come in to restore order. A murder is committed, and a culprit must be found. Money is stolen and it must be returned. It is a typically simple succession of events that we are all familiar with. Yet deeper questions remain that can and should upend this formula. What happens if a greater injustice has already been perpetuated and left unaddressed? What if getting to the bottom of the crimes can’t bring true justice? What if there are some grievous wounds that remain impossible to fully heal? These complications serve as the center of the six-episode AMC series Dark Winds. Both a Western and a noir thriller that is at its most interesting when it delves into these deeper contradictions, it often loses focus on a fraught journey towards something more reflective. When it arrives there, it becomes unexpectedly admirable and audacious.
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The Silencing Review

“Zahn McClarnon (who shined in one of my favorite shows, Longmire) makes an impact with a limited role, as one of Gustafson’s deputies.”

No other mention of Zahn, but a rather nice review of the movie and bluray by cinelinx.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau walks the woods in search of a killer in The Silencing – here’s our review of the Blu-ray!

THE SET-UP

A reclusive former hunter (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) teams up with the local sheriff (Annabelle Wallis) to find an elusive killer stalking his victims in the local woods. Also stars Hero Fiennes Tiffin and Zahn McClarnon. Directed by Robin Pront.


THE DELIVERY

The Silencing is a solid crime thriller highlighted by excellent performances from Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Annabelle Wallis. This modestly-budgeted whodunnit is a surprisingly riveting mystery with a unique identity.

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‘Barkskins’ Proves the Best Period Dramas Look Beyond the White Guys

Good review of Zahn’s new tv show Barkskins on Collider:

The past has always been fruitful ground for storytelling, especially thanks to creators who dig into underexplored niches of history, finding unexpectedly human and complex stories to tell about characters who might not be famous legends. Whether real or fictional, shows like the new Nat Geo series Barkskins are at their strongest when they look beyond the sorts of stories we’ve heard before — featuring characters we don’t often see spotlighted in period dramas.

After all, period dramas are haunted by one undeniable trend: Heroes in stories not based on the works of Jane Austen are, more often than not, white men. Part of the issue, of course, is that real-life historical stories about underrepresented groups are often dwarfed by those of white men, as the names of the latter are far more often remembered by history. But when period dramas push to acknowledge unique perspectives, it can often lead to far more interesting storytelling, especially with a TV show like Barkskins, with a relatively large ensemble and a vested interest in going deeper into their characters.

Created by Elwood Reid and based on the epic Annie Proulx novel, the first season of the Nat Geo drama focuses on the colonization of North America by the French in 1693, as indentured servants are brought from Europe to help civilize the untamed country. Like most modern-era period dramas, there’s an emphasis on the dirt, blood, and death which were ever-present parts of frontier life, and the majority of the characters do happen to be white guys. But while Charles Duquet (James Bloor) and Rene Sel (Christian Cooke), two young men who have come to New France in search of new opportunities, are the initial protagonists of Proulx’s novel and the ostensible leads of the series, Barkskins, judged by the metric of representation, actually proves to be pretty impressive.

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