In the 1880s, after the U. S. Army's defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the government continues to push Sioux Indians off their land. In Washington, D.C., Senator Henry Dawes introduces legislation to protect Native Americans rights. In South Dakota, school teacher Elaine Goodale joins Sioux native and Western-educated Dr. Charles Eastman in working with tribe members. Meanwhile, Lakota Chief Sitting Bull refuses to give into mounting government pressures.Written by
Soon after the infamous Oscar rejection speech which featured Sacheen Littlefeather, Martin Scorsese approached Marlon Brando about starring in " Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee". They worked on a script for several months but it failed to materialise. See more »
When showing close ups of the dead bodies in the snow after the massacre at Wounded Knee you can clearly see the breathing (nostrils flaring) of the one indian that is supposed to be dead. See more »
Colonel James Forsyth:
[to Charles Eastman, after the massacre at Wounded Knee Creek]
We didn't fire first! I swear to Almighty God, we did not fire first.
Chief Red Cloud:
Blue coat... you whites use many weapons against us. Do not have such a bad heart about it. We have always feared your guns the least.
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Essentially the sequel to 1991's "Son of the Morning Star"
Released to HBO in 2007, "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" is a historical Western based on several chapters of Dee Brown's book of the same name and details the last days of the Sioux Nation, culminating in the infamous massacre at Wounded Knee. Adam Beach plays Charles Eastman, a Dakota youth who is encouraged by his Christianized father to head east and become a doctor. During his stint as physician at Pine Ridge Reservation he meets and marries, Elaine Goodale (Anna Paquin). Eastman teams-up with Senator Henry Dawes (Aidan Quinn) to legally help the Native Americans. This includes the Dawes Act, which would ensure that every Indian family would own 160 acres of land. Within this framework the story of Sitting Bull (August Schellenberg) is told, including his death. Wes Studi appears briefly as Wovoka, a Northern Paiute spiritual leader and creator of the Ghost Dance. His messianic movement inspired the Natives, promising an end of their suffering under white rule.
Every movie based on history mixes fact with fiction as filmmakers try to overcome the challenge of morphing complex real-life events into palatable cinema. So let's get the falsities out of the way: Charles Eastman never lived in the Native village near the Battle of the Little Bighorn as young brave Ohiyesa; Sitting Bull surrendered at Ft. Buford, not Standing Rock; lastly, Charles Eastman was not Dawes' associate in developing the Dawes Act.
With that out of the way, what I like about this movie is how balanced it is as it shows both sides of the story. Here the Indians aren't portrayed as super-virtuous with nigh-Messianic powers (except for Wovoka, which is understandable) nor are the whites frothing with evil to massacre the Natives. This balance is perfectly portrayed in the excellent parley sequence between Sitting Bull and Col. Nelson Miles (Shaun Johnston) where honest and intense positions are shared. For instance, Miles argues that North America was anything but a peaceful paradise before Europeans arrived and that the Lakota Sioux conquered other tribes to acquire "their" land in the Black Hills. The Europeans were simply a confederation of several white "tribes" from across the great sea and were merely doing the same thing that Sitting Bull's tribe did – acquiring land from conquered peoples.
Speaking of Sitting Bull, he's one of the most interesting and enigmatic Native characters seen in cinema. And it's a noteworthy performance by Schellenberg.
The Wovoka sequence is another highlight where Wovoka (Studi) brings his prophecy and message of the Ghost Dance to the Black Hills Natives. He articulates his message in a hypnotizing manner accompanied by the sign language of the plains Indians. The irony is that, while Wovoka's vision inspires the Lakota and it replaces their suffering with hope & happiness, it only ends in death.
Two great sequences occur in the final act: The accurately-depicted haunting death of Sitting Bull, which took place on December 15, 1890, at Standing Rock Reservation; and the titular massacre at Wounded Knee Creek on the Pine River Reservation two weeks later. Col. James Forsyth (Marty Antonini) says to Eastman, "We didn't fire first. I swear to Almighty God, we did not fire first," which is verified by history: Tensions mounted in the confrontation as Yellow Bird started to perform the Ghost Dance, informing the Sioux that their "ghost shirts" were bulletproof. Known troublemaker Black Coyote seemed to unintentionally trigger the massacre by refusing to give up his rifle; some say he was deaf and didn't comprehend the order. When two soldiers seized Black Coyote from behind, his rifle was discharged during the struggle. While this was happening, Yellow Bird threw dust in the air and several Lakota braves with concealed weapons threw aside their blankets and fired their rifles at the troops. The firing then became indiscriminate and the massacre entailed.
While "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" is a television production, its quality is as good or better than many theatrical pictures. As my title blurb says, it's basically the sequel to 1991's "Son of the Morning Star": That movie ended with Custer's last stand whereas "Wounded Knee" begins with it. Furthermore, they're both televisions productions with the same grueling-realistic tone. Another good comparison is 1975's "I Will Fight No More Forever." It's also not far off in style and approach to movies like "Unforgiven" (1992), "Wyatt Earp" (1994) and "Open Range" (2003). If you're a fan of these types of Westerns be sure to check out "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee."
The film runs 133 minutes and was shot outside of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
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