Eleven-year-old Hunter Kirk (Andrew J. Ferchland) is the son of a Cherokee mother (Jeri Arredondo) and a white father (Kevin Anderson). He's a mama's boy for whom the rough-and-tumble world of his peers is life-threatening: Hunter is a hemophiliac, and a nick or a scratch means a painful shot of an expensive clotting agent.
His beer-swilling father selfishly bemoans the fact that Hunter may be "the first man on either side of the family who don't hunt." Mom allows such an expedition under one condition: Hunter has to be protected with layers of clothing and shoulder pads, making him look like a boy in a camouflage bubble. On their first trip, Hunter blunders by shooting a doe rather than a prestigious buck. The name "Doe Boy" sticks with him.
By the time he's eighteen, Hunter (now played by the charismatic James Duval, who appeared in Go and Totally F***ed Up) hasn't shaken the nickname, though it seems to bother him only when his father stretches its definition by questioning his masculinity. Mostly he brushes it off, as he does his Native blood. It is now 1984, and hemophiliacs are lumped in with homosexuals and Haitians as carriers of a new disease. When Hunter submits to an AIDS test (after the only other hemophiliac in Oklahoma dies), its implication of mortality seems to break down the barrier between Hunter and his father, and between being white and Cherokee.
The Doe Boy is semiautobiographical. Redroad suffered from asthma, and while he says he was "definitely athletic," his condition was "a pain in the ass." The director says, "I participated in everything I could, but my fragility meant I had to go home early."
Though Redroad grew up sanely with an Indian mother and a "not-Indian father," he gives Hunter conflicting feelings about his mixed parentage. Hunter is also torn about his volatile relationship with sharp edges. Encouraged by his full-blooded grandfather, Hunter whittles and lathes a piece of wood into a clarinet-like instrument. The tension in these scenes is more intense than in the hunting expeditions, where -- for once in an American film -- guns are less threatening than the familiar hazards around a wood shop.
Beautifully shot by Laszlo Kadar, the movie has a misty, autumnal glow; there seems to be a perpetual nip in the air. This crispness is not, however, matched by the leaden deer metaphors that sneak in via the narration of an old sage. Still, the movie has some great lines. "There is a difference between hunting and killing," Hunter tells his bloodthirsty father, in a statement with layers of extra meaning.
After the film shifts to 1984, Duval is in nearly every scene -- and he's a find. His face is blessed with a bracing ambiguity that could be Native, Filipino, Latino, Hawaiian or any combination thereof. A scene in which he almost consummates a relationship with a neighbor (Jade Herrera) is interrupted when she sees the bandages and tracks in his arms from his medication. His secret's out, and in rapid succession Duvall demonstrates shame, anger and hurt.