Why are most movies about the Native American plight so irredeemably dull? Why do the characters always speak in a stilted cadences like the phony Chinese in DRAGON SEED (1944)? Why do these well-intentioned "noble savage" odes begin by memorializing the rebellious Indians but end up
embalming their spirit?
Throughout the 18th century, Native Americans had been systematically uprooted by the settlers and pushed further West. Always the pawn in other peoples' wars, the Shawnee finally find a voice of resistance in Tecumseh (Jesse Borrego), who battled the United States for several decades. Although
tribal elders dicker over peace treaties, and Tecumseh's own mother (Tantoo Cardinal) favors resettlement West, Tecumseh stirs up his brethren with full support of his sister Starwatcher (Jeri Arredondo). In flashbacks, we witness Tecumseh's initial flight from battle a la The Red Badge ofCourage, his subsequent vindicating courage, his befriending of the Caucasian farmer Galloway (David Morse) who teaches him to read, and his leadership bond with fellow warriors before the Battle of Fallen Timber in 1794. Conquering the ravages of alcohol, Tecumseh's brother, Loud Noise (Lorne
Cardinal), helps him launch an all-encompassing campaign to unite the Indian nations against the forward sweep of the White Man. Over a barrel because weak-willed leaders sold land they had no right to turn over to Uncle Sam, Tecumseh defies his most troublesome adversary, General Benjamin
Harrison (David Clennon), who retaliates by massacring the Indians at Prophet Town. Misled by visions of assassinating Harrison, Loud Noise unwittingly undermines Tecumseh's efforts in banding together the tribes. Never sanctioning surrender as his crusade loses momentum, Tecumseh falls in battle
in Ontario Canada in 1813. Unable to forestall the genocide of his people, he stands out as a beacon of hope in a war of white expansion the Native Americans never had the resources to win.
The Indian nations survived decades of vicious stereotyping at the hands of John Ford and others, but one wonders whether sanctimonious exercises like TECUMSEH: THE LAST WARRIOR don't do an equal disservice. These peace-pipe testimonials play like devotionals undertaken by Boy Scouts seeking to
redress past wrongs for a merit badge. Can't someone find a way to measure the dignity of Native Americans without having them speak in that all-purpose historical lingo once so popular in biblical epics? Since we don't know how frontiersmen spoke, can't the Indians at least use the same syntax?
Even better, couldn't filmmakers use subtitles while they speak in their native tongues for stretches of the plot? Aside from this jarring problem, TECUMSEH ill-advisedly fractures the time continuum with a flashing back and forth that retards the dynamic of Tecumseh's one-man unification crusade.
Rather than advancing the story line from different perspectives, the screenplay just time travels with customary well-researched biographical tidbits. Deserving applause for investing an old legend with authenticity, TECUMSEH nonetheless fails to create a mythic figure of resistance. Given the
standard contours of the script, Borrego fitfully brings home the desperation of this prophet-warrior. But for the most part, all he can do is look noble in a loin cloth as the production surrounding him slaps a fresh coat of paint on that same cigar store Indian. (Graphic violence, adultsituations.)
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- Released: 1995
- Rating: NR
- Review: Why are most movies about the Native American plight so irredeemably dull? Why do the characters always speak in a stilted cadences like the phony Chinese in DRAGON SEED (1944)? Why do these well-intentioned "noble savage" odes begin by memorializing the r… (more)