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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This well intentioned movie did not capture the spirit of Dee Brown's
Focusing the story largely around the admirable Lakota doctor, Charles Eastman and his White wife tries to give an emotional center to Brown's sprawling narrative but the characters of Sitting Bull and Red Cloud come off as little more than an elaboration of the famous "Noble Redman meets Litter" commercial of the 70's. Superficial, blatantly sentimental and ultimately, not all that stirring----although I loved the aerial cinematic dance of the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
HBO would have been better off following the narrative structure of the book---a compelling and heartrending documentation of the woes, duplicity and failures of communication over several hundred years that ultimately achieved the near genocide of the native peoples of America by the turn of the 20th Century.
Perhaps a miniseries could have achieved this.
Ultimately, this HBO production had little heart to bury.
Very slow moving movie, which detracted greatly from the story it
should have been telling. If you haven't read the book, or knew nothing
of the history of this story, you would be completely lost.
The cast was great, and the acting was good. It is not the actors fault that the direction and editing was terrible. I had high hopes that the story telling would be straight forward, of a relatively well-documented event, based on the well known book.
The title is misleading; it is not Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, it is a small excerpt combined with some other story I was not familiar with. The ending of the movie is really mangled, combining color with black and white for dramatic effect, but it just doesn't work, especially when it never even shows the event depicted in the title.
Watch it for good acting, good music, great camera work, but don't expect to be educated, or entertained. The atrocities committed upon this Indian nation deserves a better rendition and remembrance, than presented here.
BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE is a somber retelling of the events
leading up to the massacre at (what is now) the Wounded Knee Memorial.
But this isn't a documentary. This is a made-for-TV fictional
retelling, and it is the "made-for-TV" bit that makes this important
American event lose some of its composure.
The entire production flags because of the TV aspect, many of the film shots losing their impact either because of lack of attention to detail or funds (or probably both). Either way this could've been an extreme visual recollection for most viewers but instead it lacks the depth I would've liked to have seen.
Regardless, there are some stellar appearances and acting within it. August Schellenberg as Sitting Bull undeniably has the most impact. Recent movie viewers will probably remember him from his portrayal as Powhatan in THE NEW WORLD. The contrast between the character in The New World and here in Wounded Knee shouldn't be lost, either. Without Powhatan and Pocahontas, the white settlers at Jamestown would've perished within the first few winters. And now, in Wounded Knee, it is the white man who destroys what is left of Native American life; a terribly stark (and bloody) reality.
The other notables are Adam Beach (FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS) as Charles Eastman, and Aidan Quinn as Senator Henry Dawes. They spend a lot of time together on film and they played against/off each other exceptionally well. Charles being the "new wave" Indian who melds into the white man's way of life until exposed to reservation life at Pine Ridge. Henry Dawes seeing himself as "The Great White Savior Of The Indians" by passing legislation that loops a few nooses around the necks of the Plains Indians' way of life without even realizing it.
But other actors have little to offer. Anna Paquin (X-MEN) as Charles' white love interest (and eventual wife) is seen too infrequently so the relationship between the two has little impact. She does a good job of acting but the script stymied any possibility of real success. From here the acting dips into the drab and boring. I have to give mention to Senator Fred Thompson (currently a Republican runner for the U.S. Presidency) who plays President Ulysses S. Grant. We see maybe four frames of film with him in it and then he's gone. This surprised me greatly since it was Grant's administration that doomed Native Americans by rounding them up and placing them on reservations.
Despite my misgivings about the script, cinematography and acting, this is a vital story that needs to be told, and it isn't something that is normally taught in grade school or higher. Europeans (us) conquered this land and its people, and pushed them into holding pens where they, to this day, await justice for our multiple treaty violations and massacres of their men, women and children (I will say that the scenes depicting large-caliber rifle bullets ripping through young kids was filmed well and was equally hard to watch).
So the story gives this film a higher rating than anything within it, which is unfortunate, as this terrible moment in American history needs to be remembered just as much as Germany needs to remember its holocaust.
Everything and everyone involved in this production was presented in
such a way as to be a cliché, an unfortunate stereotype of the real
events and people this show was based upon. It's really sad because I
would have expected so much more from HBO. In past programs they have
done such an excellent job of portraying an era, Rome being one very
effective example. And it even more of a shame because the book this
material is based upon was so thoroughly unique. I read "Bury My Heart
At Wounded Knee" the summer of the year it was published. I was a
senior in high school on my way to college and I was really taken aback
by it's powerful and intense telling of those years in American
The book left such an impression on me. I felt so angry and mistrustful toward the traditional telling of history, or our "not" telling of history that I spend a great deal of time talking with my relatives and grandparents about their recall of native people they had known and worked with.
My paternal grandparents were from Topeka Kansas and my uncle had worked for a number of years at the Bureau Of Land Management, which had reservations as one of it's concern. My uncle eventually told me the reason he left, was he just couldn't deal with the wretchedness of the whole affair. He said the health of the Indians was appalling and that the money they were supposed to be getting never got to whom it should. It finally depressed him so much he transferred to another area of government. I always remembered my grandfather, who was not a wealthy man, donated much money to what he used to call "The Indian Missions". They were always sending him Christian paraphernalia as thank yous, which he kept in special alcoves and shelves in his bedroom. To my child's mind they were magnificently beautiful... most of them were plastic and many lit up in the dark. I used to sleep in that room when we visited in the summers. He always had a special place in his heart for the mission people, and since he was a really kind and generous man, I realized they must be too. In those days Indians were still outsiders and while my own family may have thought otherwise, many of the people who lived in that part of the country regarded anyone who was not white as sub-human. I never got to ask my grandparents about the Indians because they were dead by the time I read this book and got curious.
Anyway, that is all a tangent story. The fact remains that this production falls way short of the base material and is an HBO flop as far as I'm concerned. Maybe they should have made it a full fledged mini series and explored the richness of the characters further, particularly the Ghost Dancer, because it's a gripping story well worth big attention.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I remember reading Dee Brown's book when I was about twelve, and being
stunned by how powerful and moving it was. So when I saw that HBO was
making a movie of Bury My Heart, I was thrilled.
And then I actually watched it.
Why they chose to take such a complex story and cram it into a two hour movie is beyond me -- they certainly could have made it a miniseries, a la Band of Brothers, or something. All the heart and soul of Brown's book is lost in this movie.
And I know Adam Beach is a popular actor if you're casting a movie that calls for young, good looking Native American guys, but he only has two facial expressions: happy or snarly, and that's it. Even Aidan Quinn, whom I normally adore, was totally wooden in this. The magnificent Wes Studi was horribly underused; he appears for about 60 seconds of film.
Such a shame that an amazing story had to be turned into a disappointing production.
I have never read the entire book. But the movie, as far as I'm concerned is outstanding. I actually thought it was going to be nothing but gun touting action and a lot of fluff, but the movie does well in showing the accuracies in most of the accounts that happened or would have happened. The movie does a good job showing a more sympathetic side to some of the Americans who actually cared for the Indian's and their interests. But it was also true in showing the ignorance on both sides and lack of understanding what truly needs to be done to attain peace. Another good thing that I loved about this movie was that is showed a more internal/personal conflict with the characters, something rarely see in Indian based movies or historically ones at that. Overall it is an awesome movie that I think, if shown in some of my history classes, would make that subject a lot more interesting. Anyone waiting to see the John Adams movie?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Wounded Knee Massacre (aka The Battle at Wounded Knee Creek) was
the last major armed conflict of what Americans term the "Indian Wars"
of the late nineteenth century. Movie opens with a recreation of
soldiers taking pictures of "Big Foot in Death," one of the disturbing
actual pictures in the book, taken on the Wounded Knee battlefield in
When I read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee over a decade ago, I would never have believed that White America would have the gall to turn it into a film and if it was made into a movie, it would be diluted as a trail of tears The latter has come to pass.
Screenwriter Daniel Giat and director Yves Simoneau deliver a film as watery as any American beer. Though it is supposedly a tribute to the indomitable spirit of the Native Americans, it is yet another White-Perspective slur-fest that dishonors that wild race with every bigoted frame. How could any movie on Earth convey the inhuman horrors of Custer's men playing soccer with the heads of Native American children? The movie opens with General Custer's gruesome defeat at Little Big Horn in 1876 by combined Lakota and Northern Cheyenne Native Americans but we don't see the heads that were just a part of the reason why the slaughter was inevitable and well-deserved. The movie ends with the grisly massacre of Lakota Sioux men, women and children at Wounded Knee in 1890. Almost as if the "Indians" got their just desserts for killing them nice soldier boys.
I rest my case.
(By the way, "Indians" is the White Eyes' name for the Native American races. The Native peoples refer to themselves either as Native Americans or their tribe name. When the Natives in this movie call themselves Indians so offhandedly, we realize the film-makers did all their research on Wikipedia.) It was not bad enough to kill off the Native Americans 150 years ago, now a movie is made about that inhuman era not to honor the Natives, but to MAKE MONEY for HBO; to pretend a spirituality, tolerance and political correctness modern Americans have not the depth to comprehend.
Before we continue, let us establish that Dee Brown's 1970 book is a disturbing, thought-provoking, well-researched masterpiece; a towering indictment of frontier America of the 1800s; a history lesson from the people who lived it, not the ones who re-wrote it. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is a book that scarred the self-aggrandizing perspective of a nation; recounting Native Americans' extermination at the hands of the White Eyes and their broken promises, cowardly massacres and bloody betrayals; every single treaty between the two factions dishonored by the scoundrels who claimed birthright to a country that they knew was not theirs.
Though this gutless filmic re-imagining of Brown's book tries hard to be compelling, it is merely a thin marketing gimmick for whatever Native American fever was doing the rounds in Hollywood at the time.
The actors do what they can with the clichéd characters they're assigned: Aidan Quinn as the Good White Man, empowered to carve up land and herd the Native Americans out; the majestic Wes Studi, an old-school agitator; August Schellenberg perfectly cast as Sitting Bull, "the greatest living Indian"; Eric Schweig doing his Steven Segal impersonation; the magnificent Adam Beach (Flags of Our Fathers), one step closer to some kind of acting award; Nathan Lee Chasing His Horse (evocative name, no? he played the young Smiles A Lot in Dances With Wolves) is Sitting Bull's son; and playing the president better than he ever could in real life, Fred Thompson as Ulysses S. Grant.
At first, the White Eyes' grasping at real estate looks like provincialism and ignorance of different cultures ("I still believe that setting the Indians on the course to civilization best serves him") but the Illegal Aliens (i.e. American settlers) knew full well that they wanted the LAND under the PRETENSE of doing a good deed for the Natives doublespeaking it as mendaciously as that Great World Terrorist of the 2000s, George W. Bush ("We're spreading democracy (so we're killing them for their energy resources)"). Of course, this proud, iron-skinned people, their faces etched like rocks of ages, knew better - and also knew inherent grand truths that their White Eyes scourges could never grasp: that the LAND belongs to no one, that we are all a PART OF the land. Unfortunately, there is something stronger than pride genocide.
Not all the stupidities in this movie are the film-makers' or the early settlers' fault, though. We easily criticize the film for all the Natives conveniently speaking English in current American vernacular and ooga-booga accent, which simply screams "Made For Television," but other silliness can be attributed to the Native Americans and their own bogus "spirituality": Wes Studi preaches that if they all do The Dance they will live forever.. uh, ooookay. And I know a modern Native friend who still fasts for a week and nails himself to a tree every Tree-Nailing Season and then swears he has "visions" of COURSE you have visions! You're hallucinating from food deprivation and blood loss!
Our only hope is that viewers of this vapid HBO movie will be encouraged to read Brown's book and perform true-hearted research into the buried heritage that the White Eyes are still working so hard to pretend to forget.
The only reason I'm giving this movie 3 stars is because of the casting
and the acting. Both were well done. The movie, however, is a
I first read Dee Brown's book, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, when I was 10 years old and found out that I was part Cherokee. It struck a cord with me that continues to resonate today, 30 some years later. Expecting a long overdue movie that would capture the eloquent and heart-breaking words and stories of the book, I was disappointed to find the movie barely resembled the book at all. As a college lecturer who frequently refers to the book in my classes, I am quite familiar with its contents. The movie version was barely recognizable.
Indian heroes such as Sitting Bull and Red Cloud come across as arrogant and foolish in this movie. They are not characters that we can sympathize with; in fact, no one in this movie is. While the story of Charles Eastman is worth telling, it is not part of the book and is sloppily woven into the storyline of the Sioux resistance at the Battle of the Little Bighorn to the massacre at Wounded Knee. That the Wounded Knee massacre should be told in flashbacks rather than as direct action is appalling.
So much has been left out of this movie that it does nothing more than commit a great injustice to both the book and the people whose stories are being told. Hasn't America taken enough away from the Indian? Must another Hollywood movie strip Indian people of yet another aspect of their culture, namely their stories, their history, and their heroes? In this movie, it does all three.
Having just spent the past 18 months studying Native American
philosophy and having just returned from a week at Cherokee, learning
the language and culture up close, I can say this film does help
express the complex and heart-rending story of the relationship between
the invaders and the conquered in our years 1870-1890.
For those who have been critical of the film (on this site), I should note from a White Woman's point of view, this is about all that Whites can absorb of the "full" story and emotions as a first contact. Yes, more can be told and should be told. But it's a start.
Perhaps this is the beginning of a revival of compassion and cross-cultural understanding.
In 1775, Dragging Canoe, a Cherokee, said, "We are not yet conquered." It has taken 200 years. Let's hope he was right.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The only reason I am giving this movie an "8" is because I can see why
some people might be confused. Othewise, I cannot understand so much
negativity towards this movie.
I will admit that I may have a slight advantage based on being raised by a mother who knows her Indian history and in particular, her Lakota history. I have also been to the area around Pine Ridge several times, so envisioning it wasn't difficult.
Without being able to do a 4 or 5 hour production, I think they did an outstanding job of showing the plight of the Native people and their struggle to exist under unfair and harsh conditions. It was rather plain to me and not colored over for the sake of the film. Showing the reality of Sitting Bull as a leader, as a man, as a captive was eloquent and very real to me.
Aidan Quinn was excellent in portraying a Christian man who honestly felt he was doing the right thing, but operating without a full understanding of what was being taken for the people he thought he was helping. Adam Beach did a great job of playing a young man disillusioned by the world he was forced into and saddened by what was happening to his people.
Some of the best moments of the film seemed simple outwardly, but were in fact so powerful that I cried. When Charles has his braids cut before going off to school, I felt so sad at that part of his culture being stripped from him. When the Indian men are lined up at Charles's window, asking for cod liver oil for the alcohol content, and when Sitting Bull arrives at the agency and is told that he no better than any other man there, those are some powerful moments. In fact, there were so many, I cannot count. Perhaps my favorite was the conversation between Gall and Sitting Bull in which Gall basically tells Sitting Bull that he has sold out and how much it has hurt him because of his view of him as a man who would never give up.
The only issues I could even mention about the movie is that at times it was hard to know who was who. It took me until the second time of watching to realize who was Gall and who was American Horse.
Watching all of the extras and commentary on this film gave me even more of an appreciation for what was attempting to be told in this film.
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