red tulips | copyright Jill J. Jensen

 

 

Skinwalkers

Cast: Wes Studi, Adam Beach, Sheila Tousey, Saginaw Grant, Harrison Lowe,
        Jon Proudstar, Nicholas Bartolo, Alex Rice
Written by Jamie Redford
Directed by Chris Eyre
Executive Producers: Robert Redford, Rebecca Eaton, Michael Nozik
Premiered: November 2002 on PBS; available on DVD

 

If you're not yet a fan of mystery stories, this adaptation of Tony Hillerman's novel could change your mind. In fact, if you're not yet familiar with Hillerman's mystery series set in Navajo country of the American Southwest, Skinwalkers is an excellent place to start.

Long-running Hillerman characters, Detective Joe Leaphorn (played in the film by Wes Studi) and Tribal Police Officer Jim Chee (played in the film by Adam Beach), anchor each book and believably make the transition to the screen.

The plot of Skinwalkers mixes typical detective-and-police work with Navajo customs and beliefs. We watch the two main characters face their heritage, their personal demons, and the challenges of their current occupations, as well as the mystery in front of them.

Leaphorn is the "seasoned cop," trained in and familiar with urban policing in the big cities of Phoenix, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque. Chee is the FBI Academy graduate more comfortable with the slower pace of the tribal reservation and training to be a traditional native healer or "medicine man."

In Skinwalkers, Leaphorn and Chee must figure out who's killing Navajo medicine men and leaving ancient symbols in blood at the murder sites — before Chee turns up as the next target.

When the film was rebroadcast recently, it included a short "Making of..." segment that can also be found at the PBS website. This series of American Mystery! Specials includes Coyote Waits and A Thief of Time, two more Hillerman stories about Leaphorn and Chee.

On the PBS website for Skinwalkers, you'll find links to the other films, and, under the Navajoland link, you'll find more information about the Navajo people, the Southwestern United States, and biographical information about Tony Hillerman. On the main website page for Skinwalkers, you can learn more about the process of turning the novel into a film, and about the film's crew, Native American director, and all-Native American cast.

 

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