By: Movie Snurb (Two Beers) –
Dances with Wolves is about Lieutenant John Dunbar (Kevin Costner). He’s a Lt. in the Union Army during the Civil War. We come upon him as it seems like he has given up on the war and life itself. As he gets on a horse and attempts suicide but death at the hands of the Confederates in battle, he accidentally rallies the Union troops to a victory. His is promoted and Dunbar requests to be stationed out on the western frontier. Once there he finds the place deserted and befriends a Wolf he names “Two Socks”. He also starts up a friendly relationship with the local tribe of Native Americans. Gradually he becomes close with the Native American people and slowly let’s go of his “white man ways” and goes from Lt. John Dunbar to Dances with Wolves.
I think by far the most impressive thing about this film is the production values for the budget they had. I would consider this an epic, it’s an epic war/historicalish drama and looks like it cost 70-100 million to make. It’s vast shots of the plains, costumes, and small battle sequences look fantastic even by today’s standards. This film was made for $22 million dollars, and the beauty and scope of this film is a testament to the direction and production of Kevin Costner, and the rest of the production team. However, Kevin’s name is all of it, so he’s gonna get most of the credit. I’ve always loved Goodfellas and thought Marty should’ve won at least Best Director for that film (arguably his best) but What Costner did on this film was an amazing achievement worthy of Best Director.
The cinematography is gorgeous, after watching it I wish I could’ve seen this on an IMAX screen. It’s shots of the Midwest really show the wide-open beauty that the frontier was at that time. Though most of this film was shot in South Dakota it feels like it’s west Kansas. I loved the shots of the wolf at the top of the hill as Dunbar watches and admires the wild animal. Costner’s admiration for the frontier and this time in America comes clear through the camera lenses.
The score is a great pairing to the cinematography to help encapsulate this time and place in America. The whole time John Barry’s score reminded me of Aaron Copland. When I hear Copland, it makes me think of America, especially the Midwest. If the frontier had a theme this would be it. When I listen to the music, I picture myself standing on the porch of a cabin overlooking the hills of the Kansas Prairie. It’s a gorgeous score that stands just as well on its own.
The last part I was impressed with was the portrayal of the Native Americans and in particular Graham Greene’s performance as Kicking Bird. I was surprised to see so many actual Native American actors used in main roles for the film. Usually they’d be relegated to minor roles and the bigger Native American roles would go to White actors. This was a film that was ahead of its time in that aspect. Graham Greene was so great in this role as a tribe leader. He was very complex but caring. He’s like the Dad everyone wants. I understand Why Pesci won for Goodfellas but this was a deserving performance and at least Greene was nominated.
Not everyone will agree with me and some will say I’m biased or nitpicky but I’ve never been a fan of Kevin Costner’s acting. Usually he sounds like he’s reading his lines, in many of his films he sounds like he couldn’t care less if he was there. This probably is one of his better roles, but there’s no surprise as to why he didn’t win Best Actor at the Oscars for this role. Costner is much more adept behind the camera rather than in front of them.
I put off watching Dances with Wolves for a very long time because it’s 3 hours and I’m not a big fan of Kevin Costner, but it really took me by surprise. I’m surprised at how much I enjoyed the film and how much I keep revisiting it in my mind. The pacing is great so it doesn’t feel like it is 3 hours. If you haven’t watched this one in a long time or if you’ve never seen it, give it a try, it’s on Netflix right now so go check it out.
Dances With Wolves (1990) Drinking Game
Do a Shot: every time there is voice over.
Take a Drink: every time Dunbar encounters the Wolf.
Do a Shot: every time a Native American’s name is explained.
Do a Shot: for every senseless killing by the white man.