Classic Film Review: Dances with Wolves (1990)

And the Oscar Goes to:

Dances with Wolves, 1990

Directed by: Kevin Costner

Starring: Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell, Graham Greene, Rodney Grant

 

With its late 1990 release, Dances with Wolves was the first Oscar-winning film to be released after my birth (September 1990), so, from now on in this countdown, all the Oscar winners will be older than me!

If I were to do a countdown of the top 10 best and worst Oscar-winning films since my birth, Dances with Wolves would unfortunately fall into the latter category. A Western film, credited as a leading influence in revitalising the genre (an acceptable notion considering another Western won the Best Picture Oscar just two years later with Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven), Dances with Wolves is about an American First Lieutenant, John J. Dunbar, who is posted to the western frontier (his choice as he wanted to see it before it disappeared).  There he is isolated for over a month before befriending a local Sioux (Native Americans) tribe, despite the language barrier (they speak Lakota, he speaks English).

The film clocks in at just shy of three hours, and for a film of that length the plot really needs to be interesting enough, or continuous enough, to see it through; parts of Dances with Wolves fail to succeed in that department, as there are many parts where it feels like it’s dragging (a scene with them chasing a herd of buffalo lasts a lot longer than it should). The language barrier doesn’t help as early on they can’t speak to one-another before Stands With A Fist (Mary McDonnell) begins remembering her English speaking childhood (she’s white but was taken in by the Sioux at an early age).

The one plus side of the language barrier is the soundtrack. Songs worthy of being in a Western Epic were created and it sounds beautiful. It also looks very good, with brilliant settings, attire and scenery all combining to prevent an accurate look of the time. However this was the first instance where I really noticed the change in picture quality. Certain things had been picked up in the films of the 90’s (hair styles of the decade, clothes, special effects), but this film really felt its age (which isn’t a criticism, it still looks amazing).

Kevin Costner plays his part brilliantly, as does Mary McDonnell, and the speaking in Lakota comes across really well (although there are some noticeable pauses put in so we, the audience, can read the subtitles, but it doesn’t appear genuine when speakers of the language are stopping so often).

An epic film, and understandable as to why it won the Best Picture Oscar, however it was too slow at times to keep interest. A ice story, with interesting character relations and a nice showing of a friendship being built by enemies of war despite the language barrier, it just felt like it was 30-minutes too long.

 

Plot: * *

Acting: * * *

Writing: * *

Presentation: * * * *

Overall Rating: * * ¾

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