Best Picture Profile: Dances With Wolves

Directed by: Kevin Costner

Company: Tig Productions / Majestic Films International / Orion Pictures Corporation

Runtime: 181 minutes


This is the movie that proclaimed to the whole world that Kevin Costner can direct. This is one of the few movies that had their actor-director win the Best Director award. Over Martin Scorsese. And this is one of the most hated Best Picture winners. Because it beat Goodfellas.

The movie is about Lt. John Dunbar, a daring but suicidal man who is injured from the war. Afterwards, he gets a recognition and was given the chance of choosing his post. He chose to be transferred at the western frontier, namely at Fort Sedgewick. As he starts to be an occupant of the place, eh begins to write in his journal on what happens with his life there.

He is bored, he admits. But one day, he sees the Indian natives. And, by fate, he sees a bleeding white woman who looks like one of the tribe members. Brought by his will to bring her home, he is surprised to see the massive Sioux community that she lives in. At first, the natives are hesitant to make communications with him, seeing him as a bad man. But when it was proven that they were wrong, he is warmly welcomed by the tribe to their community.

All I can say is that the movie is majestic. The whole film is captured on epic proportions. And the result is undeniably remarkable and powerful.

Basically, it’s all about the direction. Kevin Costner, known to be one of those ‘charmers’ of the late 80’s to the early 90’s, is great here, as a director. He is aware of the fact that the scope of the film is colossal, but what the main character has a story that is personal. And successfully defines the margin between the two. The shifting of scope is wonderfully blending. And what’s really best about his direction is, aside from the big scenes, is that he can make the characters layered and they compliment with the atmosphere of the movie.And his stroke of brilliance is the buffalo stampede. I mean, it’s one big scene. I am amazed myself. On how it was captured, on how coordinated – everything came together as perfect.

Aside from the scenes where it defines the movie as an epic, one of the scenes where the direction is very skillful is the translation scenes and the scenes of talking without the translators. We get that if one of them makes a wrong step, they may do unexpected things because of the lack of understanding due to the language barrier. But Costner also invests on humanity of the characters. So, even if there is the tension going on, Costner is also able to make it fun to watch because it’s so real. It comes of as natural.

Nothing is misplaced, everything is right, and the thing is that he doesn’t make a false move in this movie, as a director. This is one of those movies that could have been so big yet it’s so messy. Instead, he makes the whole movie as tight as possible, and he uses the gigantic setting of the movie as a facade to accommodate the characters. The characters are very in-there, and we are really in-there. And that’s what’s really best about this movie.

The movie, although big, doesn’t try to alienate the viewers. And the director makes a lot of ways to make the viewers not watch, but experience the whole epic feeling of it. And, notwithstanding the competitors, I think the director win is deserved and it’s just so masterfully directed.

The screenplay is poignant and very soulful. It managed to flesh out all of Dunbar’s character. Those narration scenes could have been utterly cheesy and unnecessary but because the screenwriter knows the character so well and he makes a fully-rounded character out of him, his limitations and capabilities, physically and emotionally, are established and thus, Costner never goes out of character.Also, every character, except for the Pawnee and the villainous Union soldiers, were given such human depth. Now that’s an accomplishment.

The acting goes from okay to well-accomplished. I guess the movie works really as a massive ensemble work. Kevin Costner is consistent to me. The way he narrates is so real. He is not writing emotional things, he writes a report in his journal, and so his voice is plain in the narrations. His performance is no dramatic tour-de-force, but he does it on a very manly way that he is believable and accessible.

Graham Greene was strong as the Sioux holy man Kicking Bird. I’m glad he didn’t do it as a stereotype. I know it’s also the screenplay’s achievement, but it’s Greene’s work that didn’t make the acting like a caricature. The character has the tendency to do so, but you can feel that Kicking Bird has a heart and tribe to protect. And we connect with him.

Mary McDonell gets a lot of hate as Stands With A Fist, the white woman adopted by the Sioux, but actually, I think it’s the best performance in this film. She is a victim of violence since his childhood. And she is a woman of suicidal tendencies. But, also, she is a woman longing for tender love. And Mary renders those in such an emotionally affecting manner, therefore giving such a wonderfully-crafted character. And when she serves as the translator, there is the right amount of innocence and subtlety in her way of speaking and moving that doesn’t make even one false ring of character. Also, I think her biggest asset as an actress here is her eyes. It’s so expressive. It evokes such strong but unexplainable heaviness of the emotions and tragedies inside of her.

As I have said a while ago, it’s really a masterpiece as an ensemble.

The technical part is all to be praised.

The cinematography was flawless. It gives us the epic feeling, but it  also evokes motion. We know that Dunbar is in a journey, so he should never be in a stationary world. And it’s beautifully captured. And the editing is an accomplishment, too. To compress such larger-than-life journey into shots and transitions and dissolves is just amazing.

The music is epic. The sound is so well, that you can feel that you’re absolutely one of them. The production values are achievements of filmmaking.

I can’t find really anything to fault it: the movie is flawlessly made, beautifully captured, emotionally honest, and undeniably sweeping. I can understand if someone might see it as boring and dragging, but honestly, I didn’t. I saw it as a thrilling piece of moviemaking.

For this, the movie gets:

What are your thoughts, dear reader?


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