A must-see mindbender, Renegade transforms Wild West adventure into a shamanic journey. Vincent Cassel stars as Mike Donovan, a U.S. Marshal who must face the devil to redeem himself and preserve a sacred Native American secret.
Loosely based on the Franco-Belgian comic book series Blueberry, Jan Kounen’s film combines psychedelic visuals with artistic cinema and deep perception. Renegade is now available at Netflix.
Young Mike is sent to his Uncle to develop good character. Mike sneaks off to a saloon that night. Wally (Michael Madsen) shoots Mike’s first love Madeleine, and a huge fire erupts. Mike retreats to the desert, filled with sorrow.
Nearly dead in the hot sun, Mike is rescued by a Chiricahua (Apache) shaman and “snake whisperer” who coaxes the slithering creatures away. Mike stays with the natives and grows into a man.
“The spirit of the plants can teach you the secrets of life,” the shaman tells him. Mike befriends young Runi (Temuera Morrison).
The devil returns
When the shaman dies, Mike returns to town. He never loses his native gifts of sensing and seeing. Drinking heavily, he dallies with saloon girls while ignoring smart, lovely Maria (Juliette Lewis), who is smitten with him.
Back from the dead, Wally is determined to find gold and more in the natives’ sacred mountains. He is the white man the natives fear most.
Cassel’s fascination with shamanism comes through in this intense performance. Lewis gives an absorbing character study of Maria, strong and free as any woman of her era could be.
The warrior’s path
Pyrotechnics and a shootout follow. Mike begs Runi to share the natives’ secret. This will enable him to confront Wally. Mike becomes the first white man to drink a powerful potion.
Mike must face his true nature and his fears. He shape shifts. Exhaling snakes, he becomes a body of snakes. His spine, a black centipede, breaks in two. Mike’s showdown with Wally is a phantasm more frightening than any gun battle. Reviewing his life, Mike discovers a horrible secret.
Tetsuo Nagata’s cinematography is stunning. Aerial and wide-range shots make you feel expansive and free. Reyes Abades supervises impressive special effects. Rich, evocative visuals come from Rodolphe Chabrier and his team.
“Welcome to the other world”
Kounen told Filmmaker Magazine that he spent months with the Shipibo-Conibos in Peru, participating in ayahuasca ceremonies. “There is a tremendous knowledge that we cannot imagine in our culture. You have to make the bridge to make people consider. Just consider. The culture protects itself from these concepts,” said Kounen.
“Cinema is a great tool to deal with a modified state of consciousness and different perceptions,” the director said. “Shamanism, or meditation, or other ways, help us to understand how the creatures that we are work.” A Shipibo ayahuasca guide performs a sacred chant in Renegade.
Kounen told The Guardian that “for 4,000 years shamans have used these plants to heal. They guide those in need through a journey of self-examination, in which they perceive themselves differently, and hopefully re-establish a balance. Is this metaphysical medicine?” (4.5 out of 5 stars)
Renegade / 2004 / R / 2 hours, 4 min
Cast Overview: Vincent Cassel, Juliette Lewis, Michael Madsen, Temuera Morrison, Ernest Borgnine, Djimon Hounsou, Hugh O’Conor, Geoffrey Lewis, Kateri Walker, Vahina Giocante, Kestenbetsa, Tcheky Karyo, Eddie Izzard, Colm Meaney
Director: Jan Kounen
Genres: Western, Advenure