Treasure of the Black Jaguar, 2010.
Directed by Mike Bruce.
Starring Cameron Van Hoy, Michael Drayer, Timothy V. Murphy and Masayuki Imai.
Two boys discover that easy money is just a mirage when their desert-based caper takes a murderous turn.
Treasure of the Black Jaguar is an American independent film that received a positive reception after being screened at Raindance. Having now seen the film myself I honestly feel that after its theatrical release it has the potential to be accepted as a real gem of indie cinema.
The story focuses on two friends, Anthony (played by co-writer Cameron Van Hoy) and Shlomo (Michael Drayer) who end up in prison after failing with a ‘get rich quick’ scheme. Whilst inside they meet treasure hunter Blake West (Timothy V. Murphy) who helps them escape and takes them on an expedition to retrieve a mysterious artifact - along with the fame and fortune that comes with it. Unfortunately for the trio a former colleague of West’s, Katsu Taka (Masayuki Imai), is also after the same prize.
One of the film’s strong points is how the two lads have the audience’s emotional support throughout the movie. I have seen many road trip/traveller films and often find myself just waiting to see what happens and wondering, but not caring, how the protagonists will overcome the obstacle in front of them. Even before they encounter any problems themselves I was urging Anthony and Shlomo, led by Blake, to get to their target successfully... but of course if everything had gone smoothly it wouldn’t have made for an entertaining movie.
Whilst on their adventure I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Burt Reynold’s film Deliverance - partly because of the similarities between the character’s situations (they set out to achieve something but encounter trouble along the way) but also because both films give the audience a visual feast with American back-country settings.
The ‘mission’ in Treasure of the Black Jaguar was filmed solely in Lone Pine, in the Californian desert. It’s the perfect location - the desert is an isolated environment but also represents perhaps the naivety of the two boys who aren’t entirely sure of what they are searching for or what will happen if they find it. Which leads me to my next point...
One of the charms of independent films is that they are not afraid to take their stories down less obvious, crowd pleasing routes. Without trying to give too much away, one of the plot points delivers quite a vicious and unexpected outcome, something that may not have been allowed had this been a studio production. And the good thing about it is that it grabs the audience with an emotional hook and doesn’t let go.
Treasure of the Black Jaguar is a strong independent film blending themes such as friendship, ambition, inner strength with a dose of vulnerability together to create a smooth yet punchy story to audiences. I genuinely believe this can get the right reception it needs to be an underdog indie hit.
Be sure to check out our exclusive interview with Daniel Pleacoff, producer of Treasure of the Black Jaguar, which you can find here.
Jon Dudley is a freelance film and television journalist and his 17-minute short film Justification was shown at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.
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