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1 item from 1998


Film review: 'Smoke Signals'

28 January 1998 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

PARK CITY, Utah -- The "Smoke Signals" coming down from the mountain are clear and ringed with good omen.

The deserved winner of the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival, this Miramax release is a bracing, entrancing story of a young Native American man's struggle to reconcile his tenuous relationship with his father, a violent alcoholic whose antics disrupted the boy's entire upbringing. A serious insight into the dispiriting lives of many Native Americans on 20th century reservations, "Smoke Signals" is a sharply forged story of personal struggle and acceptance. Laced with humor and imbued with a tender spirit, it's likely to win strong acceptance on the select-site circuit.

A smart scoping of reservation life through the disenchanted eyes of young Victor (Adam Beach), "Smoke Signals" tells the story of the incendiary sparks that underlie the lives of many who dwell on the reservation. In this telling scenario, we are witness to the traumas of the Joseph household, beginning with a drunken Fourth of July party a decade ago when Victor's father, Arnold (Gary Farmer), set the family house afire in an alcoholic haze. While the fire destroyed the family's home, it was emblematic of the smoldering problem that caused it: Arnold's alcoholism. He's a boisterous, lumbering man whose serene countenance was torched when he took to drink.

Screenwriter Sherman Alexie has prismed an incisive saga that paints a larger picture of tribal life in the 20th century. The feelings of dislocation and despair are clearly limned through these flesh-and-blood beings, while, their transcendent powers to cope with their demons, through humor are also wisely shown.

Similar in tone to "Pow-Wow Highway", which highlighted this festival several years back and also featured Farmer as a modern-day Native American, "Smoke Signals" ambulates its narrative territory in an appealing, soft-spoken manner and with an endearing, self-deprecating sense of humor. Director Chris Eyre's sage storytelling lifts these "Smoke Signals" to highest and clearest dimension.

The performances are remarkable, particularly Joseph as the conflicted young man trying to make sense of his heritage. Evan Adams is a delight as his quirky sidekick, and Farmer's forceful performance shows the deviltry of drink that makes him lose respect for himself. Tanto Cardinal is nicely stoic as the beleaguered wife and mother.

Technical contributions are packed with smart shadings, all illuminating the conflicts as well as the uplifting qualities of these well-drawn characters. Praise to production designer Charles Armstrong for the precision and appropriateness of what looks to be -- but clearly isn't -- the characters' thrown-together lives.

SMOKE SIGNALS

Miramax Films

Producers: Scott Rosenfelt, Larry Estes

Director: Chris Eyre

Screenwriter: Sherman Alexie

Co-producers: Tim Eyre, Sherman Alexie

Executive producers: David Skinner,

Carl Bressler

Associate producers: Randy Suhr, Roger Baerwolf

Line producer: Brent Morris

Director of photography: Brian Capener

Production designer: Charles Armstrong

Costume designer: Ronald Leamon

Editor: Brian Berdan

Music: B.C. Smith

Color/stereo

Cast:

Victor Joseph: Adam Beach

Thomas Builds-the-Fire: Evan Adams

Arnold Joseph: Gary Farmer

Arlene Joseph: Tanto Cardinal

Suzy Song: Irene Bedard

Running time -- 104 minutes

No MPAA rating

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1 item from 1998


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