7 January 2008 | fwomp
The Story Speaks Louder Than This Film
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 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.