Anthony's Film Review

Dances With Wolves (1990)

Dances With Wolves is, no doubt, one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen...

Kevin Costner starred in and directed the historical epic Dances With Wolves, and if he ever looks back on his career and considers this movie to be his crowning achievement, or at least one of his proudest works, I won't be surprised. It's a film that captivated my heart in so many ways. Basically, you will enjoy Dances With Wolves if you like in-depth stories about heroism, self-discovery, kindness, friendship, understanding, trust, honor, love, and peace. Or here's another way to look at it. If you've ever seen the 1962 epic film Lawrence of Arabia and have adored it since, then you'll surely feel the same about Dances With Wolves. Other than differences with the story, characters, and setting, both movies are essentially the same cinematic masterpiece.

I noticed one rather interesting thing about John Dunbar, the main character played by Costner. This is a man whose past is not revealed to us. That's OK, because the story is about his present and future, who he is and what kind of person he would become. All we can see in the beginning is that he is a Civil War lieutenant who could probably care less about warfare, as suggested by a suicidal attempt to get shot by Confederates. But he is lucky and survives. He then requests to be sent to a distant post just to see the frontier before it is gone. This shows another vital part of Dunbar's character: a willingness to choose his own destiny, not follow one given to him.

What immediately follows are scenes reminiscent of Lawrence of Arabia. As Dunbar travels across the American frontier, there are distant shots of dry hills and lush prairies. They are just beautiful to see, especially with lovely music to accompany the visuals. This part of the movie already highlights two elements done masterfully: the cinematography and the musical score. The latter was composed by John Barry, known for providing the soundtracks for various James Bond movies among many others. At this point, I knew I was going to see a wonderful movie.

Dunbar soon settles at the abandoned Fort Sedgwick and spends his days repairing it. For a while, there is no contact with any human being. There is, however, a wolf that spots Dunbar on more than one occasion. But Dunbar doesn't kill it, which I think is very clever. The wolf is an important symbol for the movie's central theme: looking past the frightening exterior to see the gentle inner heart. That's exactly what Dunbar attempts to do when, over many scenes, he finds himself face to face with Native Americans of the Sioux tribe. One tribesman named Kicking Bird (Graham Greene) is wise and advises his tribe to do the same with Dunbar.

This part of the movie is incredibly touching. We see Dunbar and Kicking Bird teach each other about how to say "buffalo" in their own tongues. There are other gestures that slowly forge trust. The one who solidifies it, however, is Stands With A Fist (Mary McDonnell), a white woman who had been adopted by the tribe as a little girl after her family was killed by Pawnee tribesmen. Dunbar first encounters her when he finds her wounded and brings her back to the tribe. Later, with the few English words she knows, Stands With A Fist acts as a translator until Dunbar and Kicking Bird finally understand each other.

All of this is just the first half. For the sake of discovery, I will be much more brief on the rest of the movie. Dunbar gradually becomes one with the Sioux, engages in a breathtaking buffalo hunt, and accepts his new Sioux name of Dances With Wolves. A romance forms between Dances With Wolves and Stands With A Fist. Finally, there is an intense confrontation when Dunbar faces his own army and is accused of being a traitor. What Dunbar finally does before the end credits roll involves an emotional but wise decision, one that leaves the audience very satisfied.

This unforgettable story is based on a novel by Michael Blake, who also wrote the screenplay. I would like to mention two things about this. One, I have not read the novel before this movie, but I'm sure that having the novelist as screenwriter is beneficial for staying true to the story. Two, this story is written so well that one might mistakenly assume it to be based on a true historical account, not a historical novel. I say this in a complimentary way. Dances With Wolves is so realistic that it mirrors what history has shown about Native Americans, both their ways of life and the atrocities against them by American soldiers.

As you can tell, I consider this movie to be absolutely wonderful. There is not a single dull moment, and I never took my eyes away from it at any time. It's no wonder that Dances With Wolves won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Additionally, the American Film Institute has listed it in its list of the 100 best movies of all time (AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies) and its list of the 100 most inspirational films of all time (AFI's 100 Years... 100 Cheers). Most importantly, Dances With Wolves was added to the U.S. Library of Congress's National Film Registry because of its cultural, historical, and aesthetic significance. All of these major honorary recognitions are well deserved. The movie is THAT good.

Anthony's Rating:

For more information about Dances With Wolves, visit the Internet Movie Database.


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