Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dances With Wolves (1990)

Director: Kevin Costner
Writer: Michael Blake
Photography: Dean Semler
Music: John Barry
Cast: Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell, Graham Greene, Rodney A. Grant

Well, here's one I never saw coming. I had put off looking at this for nearly 20 years, convinced that any Costner vehicle of such length (and then I waited too long, as the original 181-minute theatrical release subsequently morphed into this evidently now only exclusively available 236-minute director's cut)—a western, an Oscar bonanza, and a self-serious treatment of the all the usual sorry Native American issues—would at the very least have to add up to four hours of my life sacrificed forever to excruciating long-faced Hollywood sincerity. I anticipated that with sufficient breaks it could well require a whole day to crawl through, and I might not even make it at that. Do you understand now my motivations for waiting? But, honestly, I was impressed. It's a long movie, but there's an intermission-type break, at least on the DVD (remember intermissions at the movies?), and the pacing is deliberate but certain, building its plot carefully laid point by carefully laid point. What happened here, Costner got lucky?!? (At any rate, I'm still not ready for Waterworld.) It definitely comes with its share of cheaply manipulative moments, particularly in its treatment of animals (none of which actually harmed, etc.). But it develops an interesting, complex portrait of the Lakota (a/k/a Sioux, for those from the upper Midwest) and this moment in history with a fair amount of veracity, and even makes a little feint at turning The Searchers on its head, at the same time that it predictably enough never gives the U.S. whites a chance, which does or doesn't play to stereotypes according to each viewer's disposition, more or less. Me—OK, I appreciate that (no doubt raising the question in some quarters, "why do you hate America?"), particularly its use of the Lakota language itself, which I thought worked. Those who find the element pretentious or otherwise bothersome—well, that's on you.

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