Customer Reviews: Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee
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on August 8, 2007
HBO's "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" is not a mini-series; in fact, it only covers the last two chapters of Brown's book and runs a little over two hours. The film would have been better titled, The Last Days of the Sioux Nation: Second Edition

There are many historical inaccuracies in this film; some are big, and some are small. Director Yves Simoneau recounts the story of reservation life, the taking of Indian lands and the debate that ensued. Choosing drama, as opposed to a documentary style, to recount these subjects is most challenging. When one looks past the inaccuracies in "Wounded Knee", one will discover many moments of brilliance.

So, let us undo some of the most important snafus first:

* The film opens with a young Ohiyesa -- Charles Eastman living in the village at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Eastman was never there.
* Sitting Bull physically lashes his men for attempting to flee Canada for their old homeland. This was never the case. Sitting Bull did use the akicita (similar to law enforcement officers) to keep people from leaving Canada. The film accurately portrays why Sitting Bull took the actions he did.
* Sitting Bull surrenders at Standing Rock instead of Ft. Buford.
* Charles Eastman was not the right-hand man to Dawes in developing what would later become the Dawes Act.

"Wounded Knee" indeed seems to be two films. The first covers the latter years of Sitting Bull's (August Schellenberg) life which are filled with triumph and defeat, greatness and loneliness. The second involves the rescue of a culture gasping its last breath. Trying to resuscitate it are Senator Henry Dawes (Aidan Quinn) and Charles Eastman (Adam Beach) through the building of the Dawes Act that ensures every Indian family would own 160 acres of land.

The first film centers on Sitting Bull, a defeated chief of the Lakota, and one of the most convincing American Indian characters ever shaped for a film. He is a complete enigma. He fights to protect his people, yet he lashes warriors for fleeing Canada to their homeland in the Dakotas. He criticizes other Indian leaders for accepting the white man's way of life, yet he sells his autograph and photo. Sitting Bull's redemption is intended to be shown in one dramatic scene where he confronts the Dawe Commission. "You may say they wish to give us land. But, here is the truth. Each patch is for a man and all generations that follow. They know that this land cannot feed but one generation, not even so much as that..." He continues his speech which will shock and surprise many viewers. In the end, Sitting Bull's oration becomes his death warrant.

Film two follows the life of Eastman. When he is 15 years old, his father Jacob (Wayne Charles Baker) takes Eastman back from the roaming Santee bands. Eastman is confused from his father's acceptance of Christianity and his singing of hymns. For me, one of the most notable scenes occurs when Eastman must leave his father to begin yet another new life. As Eastman looks out the window of his slowly moving train, his father waves goodbye and begins to sing a hymn. The emotions are exceedingly powerful; the hymn develops into an Indian strong-heart song as he waves goodbye to his son for the last time. Eastman eventually becomes the agency physician at Pine Ridge where he meets Elaine Goodale (Anna Paquin) and they become fast friends. However, the Beach character is filled with conflict in one of his best performances. Living again among his people, Eastman questions what he has become.

From these doubts, the film chronicles perfectly Eastman and Dawe's collapsing relationship. Through the first two acts, they share the enthusiasm of great dreams and aspirations on how they intend to save the American Indian. They become like father and son. But, they finally reach an impasse in a scene that exudes much sadness.

In the middle of this complex storyline comes a moment of elegance in the only scene involving Wovoka (Studi). With ballet like movements, the Studi character brings his message of the Ghost Dance to the Lakota people. As he articulates his vision in words, he accompanies them with Plains Indian sign language while his body gracefully moves before the crowd. Wovoka's message is simple: If the Lakota people believe his vision and learn the Ghost Dance, the Great Spirit will rid the earth of the white man, return the buffalo to their full glory, and give back to the Lakota their old way of life. It is the strangest irony of this film: from such promise the Lakota people feel happiness again, but all they receive is death.

"Wounded Knee" gives us two great scenes that connect the two films together. The first is the death of Sitting Bull never told before with such accuracy in any other film. This scene over any other still haunts me. The film then transports us to the second climatic scene, which is the Battle of Wounded Knee. Yes, it was a battle; there was fierce hand-to-hand combat, and it ended in a slaughter. The movie vividly portrays the tension leading up to the battle, its fight, and its massacre, but fails in its explanation why. The movie attempts to explain as when Col. James Forsyth (Marty Antonini) says to Eastman, "We didn't fire first. I swear to all-mighty God, we did not fire first." I still wish the film explained further.

That lack of explanation does not diminish from the greatness of this movie. It is truly courageous in the tale movie producers have, until now, been afraid to touch. For the first time we have a Western movie that is concerned with both sides. With its intelligent script, strong direction, and powerful acting, "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" grasps the concept of the last days of the Lakota nation wholly; at times brutal, but the movie still exhibits warmth and passion.
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on February 22, 2008
Bury My a decent film. I always welcome any film that, respectfully and honestly, tries to deal with native american subject matters.
However; this film was simply too riddled with historical inaccuracies to be what it should have been.
The first problem arises in that Dee Brown's book in itself romantizises the massacre at wounded knee. To base a film on a book that is already flawed, from a native point of view, is tatamount to building a house on quicksand.

Ok let's look at the character of Ohiysa, or Dr. Charles Eastman, portrayed by Adam Beach.
Ohiyesa was Whappeton-Sisseton the film he is portrayed as LAKOTA. To most people that won't matter much, but for both the Lakota and Dakota people it does.
He sometimes speaks in Lakota....which, as a Dakota, he most certainly would not have. True, both dialects are mutually understandable and are of siouan origin, but Ohiyesa would certainly have spoken his Whappeton Dakota dialect....not the Oglalla Lakota dialect.
Then he is placed in the wrong place and time. Ohiyesa was nowhere near the greasy grass (little big-horn) when the lakota camp was attacked by Reno and his men. In fact, he was a state away up in North Dakota or further over in Minnesota....not in Montana where the battle took place.
Neither was he ever close to the wounded knee massacre. He WAS the agency physician at Pine Ridge, Oglalla Lakota Reservation, but not at the time of the battle at wounded knee.

Chief Tatanka Iyotake...Sitting Bull. August Schellenberg did a good job with the script he was given. What bothers me however, is that in almost all native type movies the actors are forced to speak in a very awckward manner which comes across as phoney and contrieved. As though natives would have spoken that way in their own language.

Anyhow. Tatanka Iyotake comes across as somewhat of a jerk and I feel that the way he was pertrayed took much away from the real Sitting Bull...not that I knew the man of course. However; Sitting Bull was a wicasa wakan...a holy man amongst his Hunkpapa people and I doubt he would have conducted himself as arrogantly and foolishly as he was made to look in this film. Also, he never came to Pine Ridge...much less did he surrender there. He surrendered at Ft. Robinson Nebraska.....the same place where Tashunke Witko...Chief Crazy Horse surrendered and where he was murdered by the U.S. Govt. They did get it right that Sitting Bull was murdered on his Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota.

Again, these inaccuracies may not seem like a big deal to most, but I doubt ANY american would take kindly to a foreigen nation making a film about, say Pearl Harbor, but confuse names, events and places of major american figures along the way. Imagine, a foreigen produced film about Pearl Harbor, with Gen. Mc Arthur invading China instead of Japan, and Pearl Harbor being set on the coast of Maine. Wouldn't go over well would it? Now imagine how the decendants of the native side of wounded knee feel when the story of their ancestors is constantly told in a haphazzard manner.Point made.

There are a few other things wrong with this film. In the last frames of the film Chief Makhpia Luta...Red Cloud, is shown riding on a wagon, as Ohiyesa and his wife bare witness to the aftermath of the massacre. Red Cloud was not at wounded knee. He was at Pine Ridge at the time yes, but he did not visit the killing field because he was afraid that more violence would errupt. Beyond that, he had gone blind and was in frail health at the time of the massacre....he couldn't have gone even if he had wanted to.

All in all the acting was anywhere from great to ok, but given the lame script and dialogue there was not much any of the actors could have done. The cinematography was very good, as were the least here they paid attention to detail in ditinguishing the Arikira from the Crow and the Crow from the each tribe had it's own very distinctive dress and appearance forms.

One last note on Dr. Eastman. In the film he is shown as being desolate toward the end and out of work when he, in fact, went on to publish many books and was, even in his day, recognized as a writer and orator of great renown.

From my perspective it is hard to get around the inaccuracies and the torrid dialogue, but given the scarsity of cerdible native themed films...still and ever, I take it for what it is and give it 3 stars.
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VINE VOICEon January 7, 2008
BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE is a somber retelling of the events leading up to the massacre at (what is now) the Wounded Knee Memorial. But this isn't a documentary. This is a made-for-TV fictional retelling, and it is the "made-for-TV" bit that makes this important American event lose some of its composure.

The entire production flags because of the TV aspect, many of the film shots losing their impact either because of lack of attention to detail or funds (or probably both). Either way this could've been an extreme visual recollection for most viewers but instead it lacks the depth I would've liked to have seen.

Regardless, there are some stellar appearances and acting within it. August Schellenberg as Sitting Bull undeniably has the most impact. Recent movie viewers will probably remember him from his portrayal as Powhatan in The New World. The contrast between the character in The New World and here in Wounded Knee shouldn't be lost, either. Without Powhatan and Pocahontas, the white settlers at Jamestown would've perished within the first few winters. And now, in Wounded Knee, it is the white man who destroys what is left of Native American life; a terribly stark (and bloody) reality.

The other notables are Adam Beach (Flags of Our Fathers) as Charles Eastman, and Aidan Quinn (Legends of the Fall) as Senator Henry Dawes. They spend a lot of time together on film and they played against/off each other exceptionally well. Charles being the "new wave" Indian who melds into the white man's way of life until exposed to reservation life at Pine Ridge. Henry Dawes seeing himself as "The Great White Savior Of The Indians" by passing legislation that loops a few nooses around the necks of the Plains Indians' way of life without even realizing it.

But other actors have little to offer. Anna Paquin (X-Men) as Charles' white love interest (and eventual wife) is seen too infrequently so the relationship between the two has little impact. She does a good job of acting but the script stymied any possibility of real success. From here the acting dips into the drab and boring. I have to give mention to Senator Fred Thompson (currently a Republican runner for the U.S. Presidency) who plays President Ulysses S. Grant. We see maybe four frames of film with him in it and then he's gone. This surprised me greatly since it was Grant's administration that doomed Native Americans by rounding them up and placing them on reservations.

Despite my misgivings about the script, cinematography and acting, this is a vital story that needs to be told, and it isn't something that is normally taught in grade school or higher. Europeans (us) conquered this land and its people, and pushed them into holding pens where they, to this day, await justice for our multiple treaty violations and massacres of their men, women and children (I will say that the scenes depicting large-caliber rifle bullets ripping through young kids was filmed well and was equally hard to watch).

So the story gives this film a higher rating than anything within it, which is unfortunate, as this terrible moment in American history needs to be remembered just as much as Germany needs to remember its holocaust.
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on March 19, 2016
There are discrepancies. I suppose that its a huge step in the right direction to see the incident even admitted to by our government. The movie somewhat show's the unfair and crooked dealings of the US government towards the Sioux people, and you feel a longing for justice. But at the same time they portray Wounded knee as a battle, when the fact of the matter is, that it was a massacre not a battle.
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What impressed me most about the film was the relatively evenhanded approach toward the conduct of both whites and Indians. In the western films of the 1940s-1950s, Indians were often portrayed as one-dimensional savages, killing and scalping innocent settlers. In the 1960s and later, the pendulum swung to the other extreme, with whites and the government becoming the bad guys who wantonly killed Indians (example: the 1970 film Soldier Blue, depicting the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864). Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee begins with the 1876 battle at Little Big Horn and goes through the massacre at Wounded Knee Creek in 1890. The film focuses on the lives of four main real-life characters: Charles Eastman, a young Sioux Indian who left the reservation and was educated in the East, eventually receiving a medical degree and returning as a reservation doctor; U.S. Senator Henry Dawes, who led the government's efforts to deal with the Indians by gradually assimilating them into American society; Chief Sitting Bull, who refused to accept the government's solution to dealing with the Indians; and Chief Red Cloud, who disagreed with Sitting Bull about accepting the government's terms. It's a very interesting story about the last years of the Indian Wars as the U.S. government tried to bring peace to the West even while treaties were being broken and gold miners and settlers were constantly trespassing on Indian lands.
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on January 13, 2015
I had the book for 20 years and did not get a chance to read it. Even tho I still have the book, it was good for me to visualize the history especially when I have Native American blood running through my veins.
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on June 27, 2016
One of the reasons I rated this a 5 star rating was the plight of the Indigenous people is truly illustrated. The lying & deception by the Us government, the agents for the Indians & virtually every White person involved is revolting. I read several books over the years on this subject & "Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee" most informative..
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on December 27, 2015
IN two days the anniversary of that Massacre will be 125 years past. But it lives on in us the People Tiosype who suffered this incredible and ignominious blot on Amerika's character. It is the shameful disregard and betrayal of the 1868 Treaty signed at For Laramie from which all subsequent Treaties were a virulent fraud! Those of us who know this TRUE HISTORY will never forget!
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on March 15, 2016
I guess this movie tells an important story of a chapter of Anerican history from multiple points of view. You learn there are no heros or villains just people with different points of view that clashed resulting in terrible tragedy. I really liked the portrayal of Sitting Bull as the great leader but with great flaws as well.
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on August 9, 2015
Finally, a version of "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" that remains faithful to the actual history of this terrible blight on all of mankind. The manner with which the Lakota Sioux were reduced from their lands by ignoring the treaties that were one by one ignored by our government to remove the Sioux influence from the land that contained gold and agricultural wealth for settlers is faithfully portrayed. This is a must see by all freedom-loving people who think that big government or any government should be viewed as a "parent figure."
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