First things first, fans of current day WWE will not be able to watch this movie without mistaking Jason Momoa for wrestler Roman Reigns. In fact there have been reports that when WWE showed the advertisement for this film during their live events, that many in the crowd assumed it was Reigns as well in the lead role, and with the way he is positioned in the company right now it would make sense for them to give him some outside exposure via a movie role quite like this one. That this is a WWE produced film only compounds this conundrum. While the fact that this is a WWE produced film may turn some viewers away from it, it really should not be a factor. Momoa, who wrote and directed, as well as starred in this picture, has produced a film that deserves at least to be seen without whatever negative connotations that being associated with a professional wrestling company might bring. Now, with that out of the way, on to the review at hand.
Road to Paloma is a revenge movie that begins long after the revenge has taken place. After his mother is murdered and the killer is allowed to go free, Robert Wolf, a Native American living in a poor Indian reservation, takes justice into his own hands. He tracks down the killer and beats him to death, mutilating him in the process. We of course, never see this happen (It is all described second hand later on in the film). This movie begins with Wolf on the run, working odd jobs in order to get from place to place, as he flees the federal agents assigned here to track him down. After a brief visit with his family, Wolf learns the location of his mother’s ashes and embarks upon one last adventure to give his mother a proper tribal send off by scattering her ashes in a special ceremony. Along the way he runs into a drifter and fellow motorcycle enthusiast named Cash that he forms a bond with. Together, the two of them form an ‘Easy Rider’ kind of kinship as they ride across the southwest on their own personal odyssey.
The relationship between Cash and Wolf is one of the big things that holds this movie together. They have a natural chemistry together to the point where you can believe they would probably be hanging out and doing this sort of stuff together in real life. They spend a lot of time here riding side by side, getting into various fights, but also being decent human beings and stopping to help others change tires, and fend off rapists and such, whatever the case may be. Cash is a drunk, and is passed out when Wolf originally finds him, but he is allowed time to develop a kind of graceful redemption as the movie progresses.
One weak point of the movie for me was the federal agent storyline here. Timothy V. Murphy (who also played a Big Bad on the biker show Sons of Anarchy) plays the heartless cliché federal agent who is tracking down Wolf. This tunnel visioned caricature takes the movie down a notch whenever he is on screen. He interrogates all of Wolf’s known associates including his father, played here by Wes Studi. They all, including his own partner (Chris Browning, in a liaison type role) spend the whole movie telling him in one form or another to go screw himself and basically provide no help to him on his quest. During the course of the film he slowly and methodically catches up to Wolf for the inevitable confrontation between the two. I will say, for a movie that centers on a cat and mouse chase between law enforcement and outlaws, this film, and the characters in it all moved along at a leisurely enough pace to make you think this was nothing more dangerous than a nice Sunday stroll through the park.
The strong points of this movie are the acting and the cinematography. I did not expect this movie to look half as beautiful as it did. There are many great shows of Cash and Wolf flying down the road on their bikes, of course, but the way that those scenes were filmed was absolutely perfect. Momoa has a great look for his part here, and as the director of this film, he definitely puts it to effective use. The breath taking natural vistas filmed in here are all put to very good use. On top of that, all of the performances in this movie come across very natural and effortless as well. Nothing seems rushed, and everyone here is deliberate and believable in their role, even Timothy Murphy, who has the thankless job of being the evil enforcer of “justice”… Momoa brings a strong silent type treatment to Robert Wolf that gives him a very strong badass vibe. Robert Mollohan is equally impressive as Cash, the alcoholic drifter that Wolf befriends on his journey.
I found my enjoyment of this movie to be a strange affair. From the trailer I was expecting a straight up revenge movie, which this was most certainly not, so that took a little bit to adjust to and probably unfairly preconditioned me going in. In the end this movie turned out to be a more relaxed character study in the vein of Easy Rider than a slam bang revenge movie like I was expecting going in. Without spoiling too much, the ending here kind of left me flat and a little depressed, but it probably was the correct conclusion to this kind of story. To keep this review on the shorter side of things, I will say that Road to Paloma is certainly not a great movie, but it is a very good and thoughtful one, and we could certainly do with more movies like that. It is aesthetically gorgeous, and has many strong performances. The weaknesses here are mainly in the pacing, as well as the writing department, which while not terrible by any means, was not up to par with the other aspects mentioned here.
Road to Paloma gets a two out of five: DECENT.