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With: Jessica Chastain, Michael Greyeyes, Sam Rockwell, Ciarán Hinds, Bill Camp, Louisa Krause, David Midthunder, Chaske Spencer
Written by: Steven Knight
Directed by: Susanna White
MPAA Rating: R for brief violence and language
Running Time: 101
Date: 06/24/2018

Woman Walks Ahead (2018)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Bull Sessions

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Susanna White's biographical drama is a little traditional, perhaps a little stiff, but at its center the growing relationship between Catherine Weldon and Sitting Bull offers rich emotional rewards.

In WWoman Walks Ahead, New York painter Catherine Weldon (Jessica Chastain) decides that she is through mourning her late husband, and it's now time to follow her dream; she wishes to paint a portrait of Chief Sitting Bull. It's 1890 and she journeys to North Dakota, to the Standing Rock reservation, but receives a chilly reception from the white military men stationed there.

Colonel Silas Groves (Sam Rockwell), who seems to have his own history with the American Indians, is especially pushy. Catherine manages to befriend Sitting Bull (Michael Greyeyes) and they set to work on the portrait. But it soon becomes clear that trouble is brewing as the whites try to push through a crooked treaty that will enable them to take half of the Lakota land. Both Sitting Bull and Catherine must decide how far to get involved before things get dangerous.

Woman Walks Ahead (the title refers to Weldon's Indian name) starts as most "important" based-on-a-true-story movies do, with dates and places printed on the screen, and with characters making fateful decisions about their lives. Early interactions are routine and sometimes awkward, especially when Sitting Bull ridicules Catherine for underestimating him.

But as they get to know one another, the posturing falls away and true things start to come out; their friendship and mutual respect, and even a moment of romantic tension, are eventually quite touching. Rockwell's character, too, evolves in an interesting way. At first he's unpleasantly nasty, a relentless racist, but in a powerful climactic scene, he reveals how his character evolved. He's not necessarily nicer, but he's more human.

The screenplay by the talented Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises, Locke) manages to deal with American Indian issues without seeming too heavy, and director White (Our Kind of Traitor), with only a bit of irritating camera wobbling, creates an Old West full of constricting interiors and glorious, overcast landscapes.

Lionsgate's Blu-ray release features a wonderfully outdoorsy transfer, with warm yellows, browns, and greens, and the soundtrack is crisp and clear. Extras include a director's commentary track (rather soft-spoken, with lots of pauses), a pretty standard making-of featurette (10 minutes), and deleted scenes (6 minutes). It comes with a bunch of trailers at startup and an optional digital copy.

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