A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
Writer/director Sydney Freeland's debut feature displays considerable restraint in its finale, although that determination only comes after witnessing an onslaught of complications that pile upon the movie's trio of central characters. "Drunktown's Finest" sets up plenty of pins and does so with a lot of noise and flash. That Freeland ultimately refuses to knock them down might seem like a detriment, but it's not. The decision is admirable and unexpected, and for the first time in the movie, it allows us an understanding of these characters outside of the collection of external conflicts they must endure.
The movie is set in and around a Navajo reservation that's adjacent to the town of Dry Lake, N.M. The opening narration, which comes from one of the movie's central characters, describes it as "a place to leave," not to live. She questions why anyone would choose to stay. Freeland opens the movie with a montage of the location and its inhabitants, summarizing the problems (poverty, gangs, incarceration) as well as some of the virtues (tradition, family, friendships).
The opening narrator is Nizhoni (Morning Star Wilson), a former resident of the reservation who was adopted by a white couple at the age of 7 after her biological parents died. She has been attending high school in Michigan, is looking to remain in that state for college, and only returns to Dry Lake for summers. This summer, she's trying to complete community service for a college scholarship. She also wants to uncover information about the family from which she came.
There is also Felixia (Carmen Moore), a transgender woman who lives on the reservation with her grandparents. In a pleasant surprise, her gender identity is simply, unquestioningly accepted by her family, although they have no idea that she earns a living from prostitution. Her grandfather (Richard Ray Whitman), the local medicine man, tells her the tale of how the third gender—the nadleeh—brought men and women together. When he learns she's auditioning to model for a calendar of Navajo women, he only wants to ensure that she won't be hurt in the process