Any movie that runs three hours is an hour too long, no matter how good it is. Any movie in which half of the dialogue is spoken in the Sioux Indian language is additionally questionable.
Both of these problems plague Dances With Wolves, the Oscar-winning Western directed by, produced by, and starring Kevin Costner.
Costner plays Lieutenant John Dunbar – a Union soldier in 1863 waiting to have his leg crudely amputated without anaesthesia on the front lines during the Civil War. The doctors are so tired they go for coffee, he escapes, and that’s the only thing that saves him.
Attempting suicide, he gets mistaken for a hero and sent to the western frontier, away from the front lines, where he serves the US Cavalry in a different way – assigned to a mysterious, deserted fort where everyone seems to have been killed in an Indian raid.
With nothing but loyalty to guide him, he waits dutifully for help and rations that never arrive, his only friends a horse and a curious wolf.
Thus begins a lonely truce with the surrounding Lakota Sioux that leads to friendship, every detail of which is recorded in a diary from which the narration moves the plot along from one encounter to the next.
From the meeting with a white woman raised by the Sioux who has almost forgotten English (Mary McDonnell), to the discovery of a herd of slaughtered buffalo, he gets to know these strange people as one of them.
They are simple, confused people, destined to become as endangered a species as their beloved buffalo. Family-oriented, dedicated to bravery and harmony, the Sioux are nothing at all like the predatory monsters the white man feared.
Gorgeously photographed, with peppermint skies and incredible sunsets, Dances With Wolves ends thirteen years before the last Sioux chiefs surrendered, signifying the end of the American West.
Costner had the last laugh, riding away with seven Oscars, including Best Picture – the first Western to win since 1931 – and Best Director, over Martin Scorsese for Goodfellas (1990).
Lt John J. Dunbar (Dances with Wolves)
Stands with a Fist
Wind in His Hair
Rodney A. Grant
Smiles a Lot
Nathan Lee Chasing His Horse
Jason R. Lone Hill
Doris Leader Charge
Frank P. Constanza
James A. Mitchell