DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE (TV) (director: Yves Simoneau; screenwriters: from the book by Dee Brown/Daniel Giat; cinematographer: David Franco; editor: Michael D. Ornstein; music: George S. Clinton; cast: Adam Beach (Charles Eastman), Aidan Quinn (Henry Dawes), August Schellenberg (Sitting Bull), J. K. Simmons (McLaughlin), Eric Schweig (Gall), Wes Studi (Wovoka), Colm Feore (General Sherman), Gordon Tootoosis (Red Cloud), Fred Thompson (President Ulysses S. Grant), Anna Paquin (Elaine Goodale), Shaun Johnston (Col. Nelson Miles); Runtime: 131; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Clara George; HBO; 2007)

 
"A finely photographed made for television feature movie."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Yves Simoneau ("Nuremberg") directs and Daniel Giat turns in the teleplay to a finely photographed made for television feature movie (one of those movies of the week ventures), played out as a docudrama, that's based on a small part of Dee Brown's 1971 best-selling tome. It covers from the battle of Little Big Horn in 1876 to the murder of Sitting Bull in 1890, and focuses mainly on the conflict between Charles Eastman (Adam Beach) and the naive pro-Indian Massachusetts Senator Henry Dawes (Aidan Quinn). Eastman was the adopted Christian name (his Sioux name was Ohiyesa) of the Dakota Sioux forced as a child to be assimilated into the white culture by being educated back East with the whites and who later returned West to the reservation to serve his people as a doctor--he was also co-founder of the Boy Scouts of America. In the end, Eastman realized he was used by the white man as a tool to put down the Indian culture and never seemed to get over that. Senator Henry Dawes (Aidan Quinn) was responsible for the infamous Dawes Act, which was well-intentioned and initially meant to be pro-Indian; but Dawes compromised his position by appeasing all the pressure groups and grew into a darker and more patronizing figure who began to believe the Indians needed to be "saved" from themselves; he unbelievably sat by while the Indians led desperate lives of misery and poverty on reservations. The film effectively shows the racist attitudes of the white men in the government at the time, how corrupt and incompetent was President Ulysses S. Grant (Fred Thompson), and how the whites in power lied, cheated and broke treaties signed in their name for the U.S. government.

The ensemble cast featured adequate performances by Anna Paquin as Eastman's Caucasian wife and by August Schellenberg as the legendary Sitting Bull, and a rather stiff one from Colm Feore as the anti-Indian General Sherman--at least he made you wince with horror.

The film had many drawbacks, including moving at a wooden pace, failing to have as much of an emotional impact as one would expect, too much sermonizing, overreaching to compare it allegorically to the Iraqi war and questions about its accuracy (many sides of the Charles Eastman characterization were simply invented); it mostly satisfies as offering a general overview of the Indian history with the white men in the late 19th century that properly shows what a shameful period it was for the Indians and how unprincipled were the actions of the U.S. government. It skims the surface of that historical period, but does come away at least with something to get your hands dirty on about that embarrassing period of history for all Americans. 

REVIEWED ON 10/3/2007        GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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