Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
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Inspired by Dee Brown's acclaimed bestseller, the HBO Films event begins powerfully with the Sioux triumph over General Custer at Little Big Horn. The action centers on the struggles of three characters: Charles Eastman (Adam Beach, FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS), a young, Dartmouth-educated Sioux doctor; Sitting Bull (August Schellenberg, THE NEW WORLD), the proud Lakota chief who refuses to submit to U.S. government policies designed to strip his people of their identity, dignity and sacred land; and Senator Henry Dawes (Aidan Quinn, EMPIRE FALLS), one of the men responsible for the government policy on Indian affairs. While Eastman and schoolteacher Elaine Goodale (Anna Paquin, X-MEN: THE LAST STAND), work to improve life for the Sioux on the reservation, Senator Dawes lobbies President Grant for kinder Indian treatment. Epic in scope, BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE is a new Western classic called "...insightful...deeply affecting...visually striking" by The Washington Post.
With an acceptable balance of strengths and weaknesses, HBO's revisionist rendition of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee can be recommended as a very basic (if slightly inaccurate) history lesson for younger viewers. It doesn't flinch from the harsh realities that were so passionately chronicled in author Dee Alexander Brown's enduring 1970 classic of Native American history, nor does it soften the brutality of violence between the U.S. federal forces and the doomed Native American tribes who fought to preserve their native territories, from the legendary battle of Little Big Horn in 1876 (depicted in the opening scenes) to the shameful slaughter of Sioux warriors at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on December 29, 1890. Originally broadcast on May 27, 2007, and running slightly over two hours, this U.S./Canadian coproduction struggles to tell a story that would've been better served by a full-length miniseries (and will surely disappoint anyone familiar with Brown's important book), and the screenplay is so busy giving us a Cliff's Notes version of history that it lacks any particular focus or consistent point of view. Instead, we get a sobering, noble, and heartbreaking tale of territorial injustice, with forced parallels to the war in Iraq, full of admirable performances yet riddled with clichés and anachronistic details.
If you look closer, however, you'll find much to admire: Although his character was dubiously conceived to appeal to a contemporary white audience, Adam Beach (from Flags of Our Fathers) gives a fine performance as Charles Eastman, a Sioux doctor integrated into white society, who grows increasingly conflicted by the plight of his people. He's the tragic embodiment of the faulty ideals of Senator Dawes (Aidan Quinn), whose governmental effort to assimilate Native Americans leads to disastrous outbreaks of violence, depicted here with blunt-force realism. As Eastman's sympathetic and upright wife (a white schoolteacher with a strong sense of conscience), Anna Paquin makes the most of an underwritten role, and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is an impressive showcase for outstanding native American actors like August Schellenberg (as Sitting Bull) and Gordon Tootoosis (as Red Cloud), who bring obvious authority and conviction to their roles. The film is most effective when addressing the inevitable failure of the white man's well-meaning but ultimately misguided policies toward Native Americans. To the extent that we still struggle with the historical legacy of those policies, this flawed but instructional rendition of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee can be viewed as a compact precursor to deeper historical study. --Jeff Shannon
- Commentary by director Yves Simoneau
- Commentary by actors Aidan Quinn and Adam Beach
- Behind-the-scenes featurettes: Making History, The Heart of a People, Telling the Story
- Interactive on-screen historical guide prepared by the films screenwriter
- Photo gallery
- Production notes
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This movie was very well created and very honest. Native culture is not perfect and never was. It was just not insane...and the white government continues to show that it is severely unbalanced. Now if there will be one made as such an honest portrayal of the insane megalomaniac known as Custer, at least some of the real history will be known and maybe the current court cases would change. MOvies like this are important for so many reasons!
I really liked showing the real people in the Daguerreotypes at the end and the comparisons with the actors.
Something I wasn't sure about in the film is whether the "brown bottle medicine" was actually cod liver oil like doctor seemed to think, or if it was alcohol? Maybe it is more clear in the book? (I have not read it.)
Another thought I had watching this is that the Senator in the film reminds me of MLK's warning: "I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: 'I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action'; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a 'more convenient season'."