Dances With Wolves Movie Review

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Upon the release of the four-hour Dances with Wolves, the question naturally arises: Why?

That's not me, talking, that's producers Kevin Costner and Jim Wilson, writing in the promo material for the multi-disc DVD release of their watershed film about a man who goes a little native after the end of the Civil War. Sent on a questionable "mission" by an insane major (Maury Chaykin), John Dunbar (Costner) finds himself alone in a remote outpost on the frontier, where the Sioux still rule. Already a little suicidal (having surivived his last Civil War battle by openly goading the Confederate army -- twice), Dubar's right at home amid the fear of being scalped, buffalo stampedes, and of course the threat posed by the white man when it's found he's befriended the Indians.

Notable among them is Mary McDonnell's "Stands with a Fist", a white woman captured as a young girl and now fully "one of them." It's through her rough English skills that Dunbar becomes "Dances with Wolves," on account of his friendship with a scraggly mutt that inhabits his camp. When not fighting off the Pawnee, Dances and Stands become friends and eventually lovers. And then there's the nagging issue of Dunbar going AWOL from his post

The 1990 Wolves marked the beginning of the impressive revival of the western, one which would last until 1992's Unforgiven. Both films would win Best Picture and inspire a disastrous teen-ification of the genre with movies like American Outlaws. The story is compelling, Costner's performance is top-notch, and his direction is impressive. But what's most notable is that this cowboys and Indians flick doesn't demonize the Indians. Here, Dunbar makes the cautious steps toward peace a show-stopper, and even though Dances with Wolves has its share of bow-and-arrow battles and buffalo hunts, it's the peacetime tale that is ultimately the most memorable part of the film. (Not to mention, the movie has one of cinema's great, memorable lines from Chaykin: "Sir knight? I've just pissed in my pants... and nobody can do anything about it!")

Wolves is not without its lingering problems. The "romance" is on the mild side and difficult to relate to. Costner's voice-over is stilted, sounding like he's reading from the back of a bag of frozen brocolli. And John Barry's Oscar-winning score is appropriately grand, but without even checking I could tell it was lifted wholesale from the brassy baritones he used in, of all places, A View to a Kill.

Now about that four-hour business... The new cut of the film comprises two sides of a DVD, with a second disc containing extras. The extra scenes blend in seamlessly -- it's hard to know exactly where they fall; I haven't seen this film in a decade, after all. Two commentary tracks (one from Wilson and Costner, one from the editor and the D.P.) are so-so but a little stale; I know I'd run out of things to say after four hours. Better to flip to the second disc, where a retrospective documentary says the same things in a fraction of the time.

Cast & Crew

Director :

Starring : , , , Rodney A. Grant, Floyd 'Red Crow' Westerman, ,

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Dances With Wolves Rating

" Extraordinary "

Rating: PG-13, 1990

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