Combustible Celluloid
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With: Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell, Graham Greene, Rodney A. Grant, Floyd 'Red Crow' Westerman, Tantoo Cardinal, Robert Pastorelli, Charles Rocket, Maury Chaykin
Written by: Michael Blake, based on his novel
Directed by: Kevin Costner
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Language: English, Sioux, Pawnee, with English subtitles
Running Time: 181
Date: 10/19/1990

Dances with Wolves (1990)

3 Stars (out of 4)

In My Tribe

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

When it came out in 1990, Kevin Costner's Dances With Wolves looked like a huge risk. It was a Western, during a time when few other Westerns appeared -- gangster films were the rage that year -- plus three hours long, told from the point of view of the American Indians, and full of subtitles. But it paid off. The movie was not only a huge hit, it also was a big Oscar winner, winning Best Picture and Best Director (for Costner), plus five others. Costner, and co-stars Mary McDonnell and Graham Greene were also nominated but lost. Indeed, Costner's performance began to take its first steps here from blandness to maturity.

It tells the story of a burned-out Civil War lieutenant stationed on a remote outpost, who then befriends a Sioux tribe and falls in love with a half-breed woman, but causes no end of trouble with his former colleagues. The movie isn't the first to show a white character siding with the Indians; Jimmy Stewart did that in Broken Arrow (1950). But Dances With Wolves is big-hearted and proud, without being too noble.

It is fairly simple-minded, though, as it paints the white characters with the same broad, bullying strokes that Indians used to get in traditional Westerns; the whites here are crude, mean, and stupid, which easily helps swing audience sympathy to the Sioux. Not to mention that it continues that old tradition in which white people benevolently try to represent another culture onscreen. But for all that, the movie works, even though many today believe that GoodFellas instead deserved all those Oscars.

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