Today, Kevin Costner’s saga about the old West suffers from a bad reputation since he has never done anything else after his praised directorial debut that came even close to the same level of excellence and because he was another actor-turned-director who made Martin Scorsese wait for his first Oscar. Going into Dances with Wolves, I didn’t know what to expect since I usually don’t care for Westerns or Kevin Costner and so was pleasantly surprised that Dances with Wolves is actually a pretty terrific movie.
So, Dances with Wolves is not flawless but I give Kevin Costner a lot of credit since he clearly has an eye and the talent for such a grand epic. As a leading man he is satisfying even though not remarkable – his voice-overs may be the best part of his performance. Mary McDonnell is always much better whenever she doesn’t have to play the ‘woman in love’ but most of the supporting players steal the show here. As a director, Kevin Costner may sometimes be too concerned with the length and scale of his movie but he does have a certain instinct for timing and the flow of the story. Underlined by a truly magnificent score, a lot of the scenes of loneliness, of slow meetings, of hunting or of true friendship become both entertaining and touching. The story often lacks subtlety but it’s still a powerful farewell to a lost time and culture.
It’s mostly the almost poetic beauty that Costner captures in his movie that serves as its biggest success. It’s to his credit that he gives the story time to develop, the whole movie constantly feels as if it wants to say ‘no need to hurry’ and, in this case, this is a welcoming approach. Yes, sometimes the story feels overdone and overproduced, simplified and limited but at the same time there is something about it that makes it seem ‘just right’. It’s a captivating balance between a small, personal story and the grand scope in which it is set.