Dances With Wolves (1990)

dances with wolves IMDb

Dances with Wolves is an epic on par with Lawrence of Arabia, but with the benefit of being made in an era when the “white savior” narrative was less glorified by Hollywood. Kevin Costner made a huge effort to faithfully and respectfully depict Native American culture during the late 1800s. There are few inaccuracies to overshadow the artistry of the film. It’s a classic that probably deserves the title.

I’m usually not a fan of actors casting themselves in movies they are directing. It just strikes me as either narcissism or extreme control issues. But I’m the first to admit when it’s done well, and Coster does an admirable job juggling both jobs. What’s even more impressive is that this was his directorial debut. To take on a film with such an ambitious script  as a first time director takes some guts. He’s also a great actor here as well. This was definitely Coster’s heyday, and it’s clear to see why he was so popular.

Personally, I appreciate the authenticity in the movie’s depiction of the Sioux tribe that Costner’s character comes to befriend and ultimately join. The actors all speak Lakota Sioux, so a lot of the movie contains subtitles. I’m sure it was tempting to rewrite the script a bit to somehow allow the tribe members to speak English, but a move like that would have felt forced. I’ll gladly do a bit of reading while watching a movie if it makes the story feel more real.

Dances with Wolves is a film I’m glad I’ve finally seen. It’s visually stunning and the story is rich and entertaining. Plus, I finally understand why my dad has been referring to buffalo as “tatonka” for most of my life (although, what most people refer to as a buffalo is actually the American bison).

Rating: A

This is such a well-made movie. Kevin Costner’s epic about a US Civil War soldier who ends up fraternising with American Indians is a beautifully made film. Directed by Costner, it is an epic film. This is not something I would watch every day, but if you enjoy good movies, I don’t think you can watch this film and be disappointed.

Costner plays John Dunbar. He is injured in battle at the start of the film and rather than have his legs amputated, he attempts to kill himself. After his suicide attempt winds up leading to a great victory for the Union Army, Dunbar is considered a hero and given access to the best doctors to fix his wounds and his choice of post as a reward. He chooses the Western frontier so he can see it before it disappears. While he waits for more soldiers to arrive, Costner must endure alone at the secluded Fort Sedgwick. John befriends a wolf that he names Two Sox and has a few interactions with the local tribe of Sioux Indians. Eventually, Dunbar decides to approach this tribe and learn more about them. He discovers a white woman, Stands with a Fist (Mary McDonnell) is part of their tribe and can act as a translator for him. Although reluctant at first, eventually the Sioux accept Dunbar as a friend and begin to interact with him socially. Dunbar integrates into their way of life, takes on the name Dances With Wolves, given to him by the tribe’s medicine man (Graham Greene) after he witnesses John playing with Two Sox. Dunbar also enters into a relationship with Stands with a Fist. Dunbar slowly learns that the Indians have been put through much hardship by the white men nearby and wants to help their plight however he can.

Yes, this film is basically Avatar with American Indians. James Cameron has borrowed many aspects of this film for his own space adventure.

I enjoyed the realism of this movie. The Sioux tribes all speak the correct language. When Graham Greene was cast he originally was apprehensive because he had no idea how to speak the Sioux language. I enjoy little bits of trivia like that, it shows Costner’s attention to detail and that he wanted to make everything seem realistic. He definitely does a good job of that. This film was quite the risk for Kevin Costner. At the time, he was known as a romantic leading man or action star and not much more than a heartthrob. Dances with Wolves was a big departure from films like Field of Dreams or Bull Durham. This was also his first directing gig, which would have presented its own challenges. This film is so epic in scale, I can’t imagine having a film like this to make, and be an experienced director, let alone being your directorial debut. It would have been really difficult to direct, let alone be the star of the movie too. Costner does a good job though, Dances with Wolves would eventually win a Best Picture Oscar and Costner himself would win Best Director and be nominated for Best Actor.

Dances with Wolves is an epic film in every way. It’s running time (nearly three hours), expansive locations and huge cast of American Indians all make the film feel very realistic. While this is not something I would watch every day, you have to appreciate the film making talent on hand for this movie.

Rating: A-

One thought on “Dances With Wolves (1990)

  1. Pingback: The Last Samurai (2003) | From The Abyss to Zoolander

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