Dances with Wolves beat Goodfellas for Best Picture. While hindsight is always 20/20, there is something to be said for spotting talent in play. I get that even in 1990, it was still popular to romanticize the Native American experience. It’s just that the film is too many things at once. “A Man Called Horse” existed in its time because it was a hard-boiled Western about understanding the Native American. But, it had to use Richard Harris as a way to frame that understanding.
20 years later and the topcoat is already starting to come off that beast. Kevin Costner isn’t Richard Harris. Harris was an amazing lush of an actor that could make you feel things. Costner is an actor that wants to direct. When finally given the chance to stage his shots and shape a friend’s scripted vision, it works as a visual feast. The kicker is that you have to hear that dialogue and understand what is being portrayed onscreen.
First, any serious student of 19th century America knows that the Sioux were far from peaceful. They often started fights with localized tribes and had no qualms going after whites/African Americans/fill in the blank settlers. In this film, they are nomadic hunters who take in little white girls and try to live off the land. While that did happen in very select incidents, it’s a story crutch. But, so much of the film from Stands with a Fist to that damn wolf is just plot dressing for Costner to mope around the West.
Kevin Costner loves Westerns and he has made far better ones. However, this movie might be the dumbest major studio Western of the last 30 years. The younger readers will think that all Westerns suck, but they are missing something. When a Western work, it transports you to the myth of the American Frontier while grinding your nose into the reality. Too many modern and Post WWII filmmakers get caught in their era’s version of the myth.
Costner obsesses over the individual’s accomplishments at the cost of understanding Native tribes and what was happening in the shrinking West. This film isn’t about native struggles, so much as it is about the Sioux’s ability to make Costner whole. To steal a phrase from the kids that keep DMing me and messaging me on Tumblr, it is problematic.
DANCES WITH WOLVES special features
Disc One: Theatrical Cut
Disc Two: Extended Cut
- Audio Commentary With Actor/Producer/Director Kevin Costner And Producer Jim Wilson
- Audio Commentary With Director of Photography Dean Semler and Editor Neil Travis
Disc Three: Bonus Features
- A Day in the Life on the Western Frontier
- The Original Making of Dances with Wolves
- The Creation of an Epic – A Retrospective Documentary
- Music Video
- Five Featurettes (Second Wind, Confederate March And Music, Getting the Point, Burying the Hatchet, Animatronic Buffalo)
- TV Spots
- Theatrical Trailer
- Poster and Photo Galleries