‘Dances with Wolves’ was a brave film for Kevin Costner, even if the end result was far from perfect. Coming in at just over three hours, ‘Dances with Wolves’ tells the tale of John Dunbar, a Civil War veteran who is sent to the west frontier. He waits for others in the army to join him, but they never appear. He meets Native Americans and after a while begins to live with them, learn their language, and fall in love with a white girl who had been raised by them since birth.
‘Dances with Wolves’ is set in the west and often billed as a western, but essentially this is a standard white-people-bad / nature-loving-people-good film that 20 years later ‘Avatar’ would copy mercilessly, that just happens to be set in the west. I am not claiming to know much about the treatment of Native Indians by white people, and therefore do not feel remotely qualified to comment on the bias of the film. The film does portray all white men as being totally bloodthirsty and barbaric, which I feel probably over simplifies things slightly, but Costner clearly wanted to make a film about the poor treatment of the Native Indians, so he has done.
It is this one-sided look at the film that is its main weakness and prevents any additional depth being added to the film. As a result the acting probably suffers. Whereas I respect the fact that Costner did not use big name actors to play the roles of the Native Indians, because of the one-sided look of events, the characters are not as meaty and interesting as they could have been.
There are some things about this film that I think should be mentioned. The script is at times very witty and charming, which was a bit of a pleasant surprise and does help to elevate this film from the usual goodies vs badies films (makers of ‘Avatar’ take note). The music is also of a very high quality and era appropriate (no inappropriate Vangelis electro-music here). The best thing, however, about this film is the quite simply wonderful cinematography. The filming is perfect and manages to take the viewer to the wild west and show the beautiful yet hostile surroundings like no other western that I have seen. I have not seen this film on a big screen, but I would love to watch it given the chance.
In short, ‘Dances with Wolves’ is a film with some excellent qualities, but unfortunately the overriding premise of the film was too basic and did not stray away from the simple message that it was trying to deliver.