Classic Review – Dances with Wolves (1990)

Title – Dances with Wolves (1990)

Director – Kevin Costner (The Postman)

Cast – Kevin Costner, Graham Greene, Mary McDonnell, Rodney A. Grant

Plot – In the last days of the wild frontier, Army Lieutenant John Dunbar (Costner) is sent to a remote outpost where he strikes up a friendship with a local Sioux Indian tribe.

“My name is Dances with Wolves. I have nothing to say to you. You are not worth talking to”

Review by Eddie on 11/06/2020

Before we go any further, a moments pause and reflection on Kevin Costner’s flowing mullet, a thing of real indisputable glory.

With that important bit of business taken care of, we can now focus on the unfairly criticized classic Western and 7 time Oscar winning passion project of its star Dances with Wolves, a long term dream of its star and director who faced backlash before his film was ever seen with many industry pundits expecting “Kevin’s Gate”, a vanity project destined to flop and cost its creator (who invested millions of his own money into the film) his career.

While hate remains from cinephiles towards the film, largely because the film outdid gangster classic Goodfellas in many of the key Oscar moments of the 1991 ceremony, Wolves is an undeniably impressive feat from it’s director and star who alongside writer Michael Blake (adapting his own source material for screen) creates a thoughtful, contemplative and beautiful to look at examination of the end of the wild American frontier and the life and times of the Sioux Indians.

Moving along at a gradual and steady pace, Wolves follows Costner’s deep-thinking Army Lieutenant John Dunbar, who upon his own request finds himself posted to an abandoned army fort deep into the great plains of the wild west, a place where he is able to study the untapped surroundings of his new home, befriend wolves and eventually make friends with the Sioux’s who have taken an interest in their new neighbor.

Backed by John Barry’s Oscar winning score and Dean Semler’s Oscar winning cinematography, Wolves makes the most of its somewhat limited budget to create a grand epic that feels alive and vibrant as we take this journey of discovery with Dunbar, falling into an easy going rhythm as we learn the ways of the Sioux and think upon a time and place that was rudely interrupted by the cruelty of its white settlers.

It’s quite a feat by Costner, wrangling such extensive material and scope, and while the film can at times feel slightly self-indulgent in the 3 hour runtime it allots itself, there’s so much great material and performances littered throughout that you can forgive the film its missteps in more unnecessary moments.

Costner has never been better in front of or behind the camera (especially in his direction of a stunning Buffalo hunt sequence, with help from director friend Kevin Reynolds), Dunbar suiting his persona and horse riding ability perfectly and with strong supports from its heavily Native American filled cast, his turn marks a career benchmark for the performer who lost his way slightly after the success of this film with the likes of The Postman and the fun but misguided Waterworld.

Another important and culturally significant factor to the film is in its portrayal of the White America, many Western’s past and future never bothered to delve too deep into the horrors of the White invaders, with Wolves showcasing the other-side of the coin with a care and responsibility that makes it a unique feeling experience in a genre littered with more generic offerings.

Final Say – 

Holding up well 30 years on from its initial release, Dances with Wolves remains Kevin Costner’s crowning creative and acting achievement that deserves its place in Oscars history and in the top class entries of Western features.

4 diaries out of 5  

9 responses to “Classic Review – Dances with Wolves (1990)

  1. A great film and at the time one of few I went to watch again at the cinema. The movie is arguably all too relevant today……

    • Another great film Hostiles, although that is a much more brutal film than this more contemplative effort. It holds up really well despite the years since its release. Well worth tracking down.

  2. Pingback: Classic Review – Dances with Wolves (1990) — Jordan and Eddie (The Movie Guys) – Chicago FEEDBACK Film Festival·

  3. emotional, thought provoking, poignant, i could easily have watched another couple of hours. contraversially i though Mary Mcdonell should have won the supporting actor oscar over whoopi goldberg…because she acted the part whereas whoopi played herself more or less. brilliant film, gone into my top ten possibly top 5.

  4. Pingback: Film Review – The Postman (1997) | Jordan and Eddie (The Movie Guys)·

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