The plodding vanity project of star, director, and co-producer Kevin Costner, this three-hour-plus revisionist western, much of it in subtitled Sioux language, shocked movie-industry observers by becoming a huge hit and garnering 12 Oscar nominations, winning seven, including Best
Picture and Best Director. The Sioux gave the film their own rave review by admitting Costner as a full tribal member.
Costner plays Lt. John W. Dunbar, a Union officer during the Civil War who undergoes a conversion experience on the frontier that transforms him into the title character. The film begins with Dunbar wounded, depressed, and suicidal. His suicide attempt is mistaken for an act of heroism and he gets
transferred to the post of his choice--an outpost on the frontier far away from white "civilization." After a series of peculiar experiences he find himself alone in a little shelter on the prairie where he befriends an amiable wolf. Before long he meets his equally amiable Native American
neighbors and slowly wins their respect and love as he goes native with a vengeance. Over the course of his unlikely adventures, he trades in his dreary Union duds for some cool Sioux threads, forms a very close friendship with a white woman (McDonnell) who was captured and raised by Indians, and
even breaks the "Prime Directive" by giving out rifles and ammunition to his "good" Lakota Sioux pals to battle the mean ol' Pawnees.
Not a great film by any standard, this is a western for people who are completely ignorant about the genre. Costner's direction is barely competent and frequently clumsy. Michael Blake's script, adapted from his novel, is loose and disconnected, rambling about with no real story holding it
together, beyond the imminent arrival of the white bad guys to spoil Dunbar's frontier fantasy paradise. Despite its attention to surface details of day-to-day Sioux life, the film shows no genuine curiosity about the larger designs of the Sioux culture. We see little of tribal life through Sioux
eyes, and come away having learned nothing at all about Sioux spirituality. Instead, the film renders the Sioux as just average folks.
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