Richard M. Affleck | Lake Hopatcong, NJ USA | 12/18/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Coyote Waits", brought to the small screen by the same team that produced the lamentable "Skinwalkers", is a satisfying experience for Tony Hillerman fans, for fans of movie mysteries in general, and for folks interested in the portrayal of Native Americans, in this case the Navajo (Dine'). It would appear that the writers listened to the complaints about "Skinwalkers" and came up with a story that adheres much more closely to Hillerman's plot and to the author's portrayal of his main characters, particularly Jim Chee (played by Adam Beach) and Joe Leaphorn (Wes Studi). Like any novel adapted into a two-hour movie, there are conflations of characters and substantial trimmings in the narrative. Nonetheless, the major plotlines in the book are dealt with here in a generally satisfactory way, although the climax was a bit too pat based on the information that the viewer was given during the course of the investigation into the death of Officer Delbert Nez. The principal character change in the film involves the substitution of Leaphorn's wife Emma(who died in the earlier book) for Professor Borbonnette, a change that is not particularly jarring in this context. Kept intact from the book is the relationship between the traditionalist Chee (studying to be a haatali, or medicine man) and the rationalist Leaphorn (firmly in touch with his own Dine' culture, but deeply skeptical of some of its beliefs). All in all, the treatment accorded to "Coyote Waits" bodes well for future productions in the series. Hopefully, "Thief of Time" will be next."
Some grating flaws, but the mystery itself works reasonably
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 09/28/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Years ago Robert Redford bought the screen rights to a bunch of Tony Hillerman mysteries. He's been the force behind one movie (The Dark Wind, 1991, with Lou Diamond Phillips and Fred Ward as Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn) and three television movies, all with Adam Beach as Chee and Wes Studi as Leaphorn (American Mystery! Special: Skinwalkers, 2002; Coyote Waits, 2003; and A Thief of Time, 2004). Redford has yet to get it right.
Coyote Waits is the best of the TV movies, but it suffers from the same conscientious flaws that mar the other three productions. It's best to remind ourselves just why Hillerman's mysteries are so good: They are complex yet believable; are set in what, for most Americans, is an exotic locale within a culture which is not well known; and the mysteries are superbly constructed and well written. Hillerman educates us along the way -- if we want to be educated -- about Navajo people, customs, history and the Navajo belief system. He makes clear the tension between modern needs and traditional values, but he does it matter-of-factly, with no preaching, and always within the context of the mystery he's telling.
Redford and his team almost perversely get it backward. More than any of the other flaws, it's the reverential treatment given to the Navajo and their land that sinks these movies into culturally-approved lessons. Instead of trusting the audience to take up what they will and learn from it or not, as Hillerman does, we have sweeping camera vistas of the land at dramatic moments; a generically sensitive "ethnic" score that tries to tell us what we should be appreciating in the Navajo belief system; and a need to cram in so many plot points from the books with messages about Navajo issues that the mysteries themselves become disorganized.
Coyote Waits eventually settles down to a better than average telling of Hillerman's story, which involves a ruthless search for old bones. A great deal of money and an enhanced reputation are the prizes. There's murder and avarice, rattlesnakes and Bolivian coins and the continuing conflict within Chee over his job as a cop and his gifts as a healer. Chee and the older Leaphorn wind up working together but on parallel aspects of the case. It makes for a neat way to keep the two different men prominent in the solution. The director and writer have managed with partial success to keep the focus on the story. Coyote Waits is far more coherent and with less of the reverential stuff that so marred, in my opinion, Skinwalkers and The Thief of Time.
You might want to give The Dark Wind a try. Phillips makes an interesting, if young, Chee. The movie, however, also keeps getting sidetracked into overly respectful appreciation of the Navajo way. The Navajo deserve better...which they get in the Hillerman books.
The only extra worth noting is a "making of" piece that features shots on location and brief interviews with the production crew, Hillerman, Beach and Studi. It serves up the same cloying flaws as the TV movie. People keep telling us how honored they are to be working on the program and how wonderful PBS is to be a partner in making the production possible. This is the same PBS that gave us the 10 p.m. "safe harbor" and that had the vapors over a real soldier in a real war (in Ken Burns' WWII documentary) saying a curse word. Please, folks, enough is enough.
I give this movie a better-than-average rating because, even with the movie's flaws, the team tried to do a better job. When they concentrated on the mystery, the movie works reasonably well."
Kinda Cheesy but it's tv
Kris Mack | Knoxville, TN | 11/05/2007
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Made for tv movie from the popular books. Movie was a bit cheesy. Overacting is key. Too good of actors for such a bad script. Adam Beach and Wes Studi were poorly casted for such an amature movie. I couldn't possibly dumb down their talent for this case."
Pretty filming, lifeless acting
e. verrillo | williamsburg, ma | 11/24/2009
(2 out of 5 stars)
"It's usually not cricket to compare a movie with the book it was based on, but in this case everything that made the book worthwhile was missing in the movie. What makes Hillerman's books so wonderful is that he portrays Navajo culture with such profound authenticity. But in this film, Hillerman's Navajo characters were transformed into cardboard cutouts, and the culture that Hillerman so skillfully conveyed was reduced to some flute music and close-ups of elders telling old myths. However, even the stereotyped image of the wrinkled elder in braids recounting the ways of the ancestors looked pretty good compared to the completely lifeless acting. Adam Beach was horribly miscast as the traditionalist Navajo, Jim Chee. He slurred his way through his lines and couldn't even muster one convincing scene. Sheila Tousey, as Emma, sounded like she was reading her lines from a prompter. Wes Studi, as Leaphorn, was marginally better, but he only had one facial expression--hard-boiled cop. (And Jim Chee only had one shirt...) I'm afraid even Graham Greene, that warhorse of Native American films, couldn't save this one.
On the positive side, the scenery was gorgeous."
Trouble on the rez for Chee and Leaphorn
R. Kyle | USA | 08/10/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Coyote Waits" is the second American Mystery made for television movie based on the Tony Hillerman Navajo novels. In this story, Jim Chee (Adam Beach) is taking a hitchiker to work when he gets a call from fellow cop and friend, Delbert. He can't quite make out what his friend's saying, so he continues taking the young teenage girl to her job. Later, he finds Delbert shot to death in a burning car. He injures his hand trying to rescue his friend and blames himself for Delbert's death, reconsidering his decision to be a cop.
Joe Leaphorn (Studi) didn't want to be involved in this case at all. Ashi Pinto (Jimmy Herman) who is arrested for the murder is kin to his wife, Emma (Sheila Tousey). She's not going to let a kinsman be framed.
This puts Chee and Leaphorn at odds momentarily until they opt to work together. Wonderful reappearance of Graham Greene as the tribal Christian reverand and taxi-cab driver. Overall, this is a well done film and worth seeing.
See also the other two films based on this series: