Kevin Costner’s (director/star) overlong tale of the trials and tribulations of the Dakota Sioux-Lakota is an epic in length only.
The opening sequence is almost laughable (excepting those whose miserable injuries have forever changed their lives). Union 1st Lieutenant John J. Dunbar (a bearded Kostner) , facing amputation of a foot, opts to suck it up, bite the “bullet”, pull on his boats and ride directly into the Confederates’ line of attack. (How narratively convenient that his “surgeons” opt to take a coffee break before the “chop” or the movie would end here.)
Then, like Dune characters with force fields around them, not a single Confederate marksman can bring down such an easy prey (see “no movie” above).
Then, it’s off to Fort Sedgwick, Colorado where Dunbar will singlehandedly man the outpost until promised reinforcements arrive.
From there, the film starts to take on a “feel good” tone as Dunbar and the Sioux “dance” with each other. Dunbar starts their “card” by bringing home “Stands with a Fist” (Mary McConnell—the only other white amongst the tribe) to her former village, despondent over losing the only man she loved…
From there, the film moves in predictable territory with Dunbar and the Sioux gradually accepting rather than fearing each—aided and abetted by Stands with a Fist shaky English as translator Sometimes editing…). Of course, the elephant in the room is the “expected any day now” tsunami of Dunbar’s colleagues intent on ridding the land of heathen.
A few saving graces: Grahame Greene turns in the best performance of the production playing Kicking Bird—a wiser-than-his-years leader who follows the facts rather than feelings; Floyd “Red Crow” Westerman is marvellously stoic, thoughtful and shrewd as the Sioux chief, Ten Bears. But perhaps best of all on screen are the alternating wolves (Teddy and Buck), Two Socks, and the incredibly captured buffalo hunt. It seems these, also endangered, animals have as much to say about white man’s intrusions as their original hunters.
John Barry’s French horn heavy original score, artistically cheers on the underdogs (Dunbar and the Sioux) even as the victorious Union troops go about their unstoppable work of claiming what is rightfully (just ask them) theirs over those whose way of life do not pass the litmus test of their invaders. Sadly that sort of attitude is paying horrifically today in Ukraine. JWR