Movie Reviews - Featured Films » Epic Films - Western

Dances With Wolves Movie Review

costner kevin film sioux

1990 – Kevin Costner –

The modern western has become more sensitive to the charge of injustice to the American Native (or perhaps more sensitive to political correctness). Unlike previous sensationalized and exploitative predecessors such as A Man Called Horse and its two less-accomplished sequels, Dances With Wolves is much more sensitive and effective.

“I felt that economically, it was too big a risk to make a movie about Indians and not treat them right,” Costner told Rolling Stone in 1990. “I thought a movie like that would get creamed. That's not a highbrow approach. It's just easier to go with the truth.” If the film fails a bit in its complexity of character and theme, it compensates with plenty of sincerity and panoramic splendor, including a buffalo hunt scene featuring 3500 thundering beasts. Taking on the burdensome task of such a grand project as both producer and director certainly says much for Kevin Costner's talent and confidence. He had been greatly criticized and even mocked during the production of Dances With Wolves, with some in the media calling it an extravagant folly, a charge that resurfaced with Waterworld. (Pauline Kael said in her review of the film that the Indians should have named Costner's character Plays with Camera.) The public, however, found the film intriguing and made it a major box-office success.

The film begins in a Union field hospital with the wounded Lt. John Dunbar (Kevin Costner) refusing to have his foot amputated. Depressed and disillusioned, Dunbar attempts suicide by riding between enemy lines while each side is determined to attack. Remarkably, he survives a hail of enemy bullets. Considered a hero and given his choice of duty assignments, he chooses the frontier. Assigned to a desolate one-man post, he eventually encounters a wolf whom he calls Two Socks and a tribe of Sioux Indians. With both the wolf and the Sioux, Dunbar experiences a gradual building of trust that eventually changes him. Dunbar eventually gives up his old identity and becomes one of the Sioux, winning the Indian name Dances With Wolves. Life with the Sioux leads him to discover his true self.

The film's strengths and weaknesses are pretty much two sides of the same coin. The sensitivity to the portrayal of the Sioux uncovers truths about both societies depicted, yet it also may lead to some reverse stereotyping by emphasizing everything positive about the American Indian and portraying the U.S. Cavalry as little more than narrow-minded brutes. The liberalism of the film, however, does establish some strong ironies. The urge to depict the generally peaceful Sioux as harmonious with nature serves as a reminder that it was indeed the white man who had become the uncivilized predator.

Cast: Kevin Costner (Lt. John W. Dunbar), Mary McDonnell (Stands with a Fist), Graham Greene (Kicking Bird), Rodney Grant (Wind in his Hair), Floyd “Red Crow” Westerman (Chief Ten Bears), Tantoo Cardinal (Black Shawl), Robert Pastorelli (Timmons), Charles Rocket (Lt. Elgin), Maury Chaykin (Maj. Fambrough), Jimmy Herman (Stone Calf), Nathan Lee Chasing His Horse (Smile a Lot), Wes Studi (Toughest Pawnee) Screenwriter: Michael Blake Composer: John Barry Producer: Kevin Costner and Jim Wilson for Tig Productions MPAA Rating: PG-13 Running Time: 181 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards, 1990: Picture, Director (Kevin Costner), Editing, Score, Sound, Adapted screenplay, Cinematography; Nominations: Supporting Actress (Mary McDonnell), Costume Design, Actor (Kevin Costner), Supporting Actor (Graham Greene), Art Direction; Berlin International Film Festival: Silver Bear for outstanding achievement (Kevin Costner); British Academy Awards, 1990: Nominations: Actor (Kevin Costner), Director (Kevin Costner), Adapted Screenplay, Picture; Golden Globe Awards, 1990: Best Film—Drama, Screenplay; Nominations: Actor (Kevin Costner), Supporting Actress (Mary McDonnell), Score, Director (Kevin Costner); National Board of Review of Motion Pictures: 10 Best Films; New York Film Critics Circle Award, 1990, Nominations: Best First-Time Director (Kevin Costner) Box Office: $184M (domestic gross), $424.2M (worldwide).

Giant Movie Review [next] [back] Cimarron Movie Review

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or