My current Top 5

My current Top 5


Number 45: Dances with Wolves (Best Picture Ranking)

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.

First, the not so good: Dances with Wolves is a clear product of the early 90s and focuses too much on the stereotype of the ‘noble savage’ or spiritual awakening away from civilization. Also, at certain moments, the movie goes on forever and especially the love story between Costner and Mary McDonnell harms the quality of the movie since it is impossible to overlook the fact that, in a movie that concerns itself with a lonely white man and his life with a Sioux tribe, it was still possible to find a white woman he could fall in love with and it also doesn’t help that the two actors lack the necessary chemistry and are so completely uninteresting when they are together. Kevin Costner also tends to simplify too many points in his story – the aforementioned image of the ‘noble savage’ contrasts sharply with the two-dimensional presentation of the soldiers or the ‘bad’ Indians.

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.


Louis Morgan said...

I can't agree here due to the poor writing in the film. Yes it was somewhat interesting to see somewhat three dimensional natives, they still were not incredible character or anything, but than the story is really pulled done by the just poorly written Union Soldiers, which I am glad you did mention. Yes he could have shown them negatively, I do not have a problem with that, by they were just portrayed unrealistically, and one dimensionally.

Also found many of the performances lacking, and although the film showed promise at first for me, it just never became that interesting, and as the film went on I became quite bored.

Fritz said...

I guess that just shows different tastes - I simply love long epics, no matter how slow they are, and they have to be really bad to bore me. ;.)

Louis Morgan said...

Well I do love Doctor Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia, and other long epics so I would say I do like epics but only good ones.

Anonymous said...

Respect this film tremendously.Even though goodfellas has bigger cinematic value and is better film doesn't mean Dances isn't terrific.(Pretty much the same with Fargo vs The English patient race.Former is better film with bigger cinematic value,but patient is great too)

dinasztie said...

I so love this movie but Goodfellas was better.

joe burns said...

Never seen it, though I have seen parts of it. It doesn't interest me much. Goodfellas was really good, but a bit over-praised.

Will you do Best Picture rankings on here?

Fritz said...

Yes, from now on I will not only analyze Best Actress races but also Best Picture (and maybe others someday, too.)