Dances With Wolves - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Dances With Wolves Reviews

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Super Reviewer
April 23, 2008
Costner's half-hearted media apology to the Indian nation for the atrocities committed against them in the name of unrivaled,
unapologetic, rapacious greed (for which the people of One Nation Under God have made good - not) makes for a nice pass of time even if the lead characters are ironically Caucasians (though adopted by Native Americans). My favorite sequence: the sweeping Remington inspired Buffalo Hunt.
Super Reviewer
½ August 3, 2010
Many people think the 1990 Oscar for Best Picture should have gone to GoodFellas; I might have preferred that also, but don't discredit this film for that reason. This is a great film! Along with 92's Unforgiven, Dances With Wolves revamped the Western genre, making it popular again. Nominated for 12 Academy Awards and winner of 7, this classic film is a must see!
Daniel Mumby
Super Reviewer
December 3, 2011
It may be a clichéd complaint, but more often than not the Academy has got the Best Picture Oscar dead wrong. Sometimes, as with Crash, their mistake is obvious and the outcry is instant; on other occasions, as with Citizen Kane, both the Academy and the public have taken time to see the error of their ways. And then we have Dances with Wolves, which beat Goodfellas to the big gong to deny Martin Scorsese his Oscar for a third time. While not as crass a mistake as the others, time has not been kind to Kevin Costner's debut, which now seems long on principle but short on actual story.

The obvious way to prey on Dances with Wolves would be to attack Costner's subsequent career. His later efforts behind the camera have left a lot to be desired, with Waterworld running hugely over budget and The Postman being the dictionary definition of tedious. His acting style and drawling delivery suggest a man who takes himself far too seriously, rivalling only Nicolas Cage for stony-faced absurdity. But a quick glance at his back catalogue reveals a slightly more complicated picture. Lest we forget, Costner was once an admired and popular actor, who acquitted himself perfectly well in No Way Out, The Untouchables and Field of Dreams. And for all the gaping flaws in his directorial efforts, you could never accuse him of going in with anything but the very best intentions.

The most obvious quality of Dances with Wolves is that it is very even-handed towards its subject matter. It approaches the relationship between Native Americans and American soldiers with the same restraint and intelligence that Clint Eastwood applied to the subject of revenge in Unforgiven. There has clearly been a lot of effort expended by Costner and the writer Michael Blake to get away from the clichéd depiction of Native Americans as a backward, violent people, who deserved everything they got from the brave, civilised white men driving them off the land in the name of God and Progress.

You also have to applaud Costner's ambition as a director. There are few actors, let alone big stars, who would have taken on such a big project first time out. Costner was shooting in mostly external locations for four months, including several elaborate sequences with hundreds of real horses and buffalo. His commitment was such that he nearly broke his back from doing his own stunts, and stumped up over $3m of his own money to cover the costs incurred by bad weather. Costner was prepared to take risks with Dances with Wolves, and that deserves praise regardless of whether the film works or not.

A further point of admiration comes in Costner's decision to have much of the dialogue spoken in the Lakota language. The fact that the film grossed more than $400m worldwide, and $184m domestically, is a massive raspberry to the notion that Western audiences won't pay to watch films that aren't in the English language. But it also proves that the respect for the different cultures within the film is genuine, not just a device for boosting Costner's artistic standing. This remains the case even after Russell Means pointed out the flawed translations, which left all the men in the film speaking in the female Sioux dialect.

In terms of the admiration it generates, Dances with Wolves is in the same league as Battle of Britain in terms of pure good will. But like Battle of Britain, this admiration does not guarantee good drama, and little by little Costner's film begins to look earnest to the point of being dul. It ends up stuck halfway between Unforgiven and Heaven's Gate, being neither as gripping nor elegiac as the former, nor as wretchedly pretentious as the latter. It never becomes as well-meaningly dull as Battle of Britain, but its flaws in terms of pacing and emotion cannot help but prey on our minds.

The first 45 minutes of Dances with Wolves are very slow and very portentous. Costner is clearly pulling out all the stops to make us admire and believe in the character of John Dunbar, but he ends up both trying too hard and not enough. The opening battle sequence features Costner attempting suicide by riding straight at the Confederate front line with his arms held out in a messianic pose - a decision which results in sniggers or sneers rather than feelings of empathy. In the various scenes that follow, where Dunbar is sent out to the frontier, too much effort is expended trying to express his bravery and not enough made on showing him as a rounded human being.

When I reviewed (500) Days of Summer, I argued that the presence of a narrator in any kind of film creates an element of certainty which can sometimes work against dramatic tension. In the case of Dances with Wolves, one could argue it is necessary since the diary is integral to the later stages of the plot. But while it is partially justified on a narrative level, Costner's delivery of it is frankly third-rate. His readings feel rushed and increasingly desperate, as he tries to convey the gravity of the situation without much success.

The narration aside, there is precious little about Dances with Wolves which is rushed. At just over 3 hours long (4 hours in its Director's Cut), comparisons with Heaven's Gate are unavoidable; the project was even nicknamed 'Kevin's Gate' after the production delays were leaked to the press. Costner's film is nowhere near as baggy as Heaven's Gate, let alone as self-serving, but it is every bit as drawn out, especially in its final act. Had Kevin gone through with a pair of scissors and lost even 30 seconds from every scene, it would have made a world of difference.

The biggest problem with Dances with Wolves is that it constantly tells us how important the events are without doing enough to show us why this is the case. There are many beautiful or poignant images throughout, from the hundreds of dead buffalo lying on the plains to the couple's departure from the winter camp. But these images don't carry the weight that they should because we haven't invested enough in the characters to make them any more than pretty compositions.

The film is so respectful towards the Sioux that it is almost hesitant to scratch the surface and ask the difficult questions about how their society works, such as the relationship between fathers and sons, and the position of women. This is understandable up to a point, considering the negative depiction of Native Americans in Hollywood throughout the 20th century - a fact which, if you believe Marlon Brando, led him to turn down his second Oscar. But you would think that if Costner were brave enough to embark on something of such scale and ambition, the last thing he would be worried about was mildly offending people.

Fortunately, the film does pick up after the first 45 minutes and has moments where the action and characters do take flight. Many of these scenes find Costner willing to let his hair down, whether it's dancing with Two Socks around the camp fire or giving audiences a clear view of his naked bottom. It is hard not to get swept up in the chases scene across the plains, diligently matched by John Barry's stirring score. And some of the lighter moments within the camp help us to relax as well; when Dunbar interrupts Kicking Bird's nearby lovemaking, Graham Greene's facial expression says it all.

The romantic aspect of Dances with Wolves is well-played for an epic, if only because the central relationship develops at a reasonable rate. We don't get that agonising sensation as in Out of Africa, where we know the characters are meant to kiss and are begging them to get on with it. The scenes of Stands with a Fist interpreting between Dunbar and Kicking Bird are well-played, serving their purpose while conveying the sexual tension between the characters. Their relationship conveys the conflicted identity of the central characters and the possibility of future harmony between the nations.

Dances with Wolves is ultimately a very middling film. It's too long to adequately serve its story, but not so long that we lose all patience with it. Its respect for its characters undercuts the drama, but not to the extent that we sit there drifting into a coma. And its direction is uninvolving, but not in an artsy, egotistical way. Calling it an average or ordinary film is to belie Costner's ambition, but any higher praise is impossible in light of its flaws. It remains significant but not stirring, admirable but not engaging, important but not profound.
Super Reviewer
October 29, 2007
Probably the best western made, only 'Mohicans' comes close to this and only 'Apocalypto' recently challenges it. This is a heart warming, emotional, tense and brutal look at life within an Indian tribe and how they try to exsist against the American military with the help of turned soldier Costner. The look and feel of the whole film is absolutely perfect, faultless, the musical score is one of the best and most moving in a film that I can remember whilst the acting is nothing short of perfect from virtually everyone involved including Costner.

Nothing has really beaten this film in terms of accuracy and honesty, its amazing what they achieved, even the animals are sublime. Most of the film is in native tongue ('Apocalypto' beats this in the fact its all in native tongue which was darn impressive) and the locations used are actually the correct real historic locations, not many sets used. Its a perfect film, romance, action, courage, revenge, tears, its very much an emotional roller coaster, but well worth it, you must see this before you die, its an actual history lesson.
Super Reviewer
½ August 17, 2011
Dances with Wolves is a masterful film. The storyline is great, and it was an incredible historical film. The cast was great, and this is probably Kevin Costners most memorable film. This movie is great, and I loved it, I highly recommend it.
Super Reviewer
February 19, 2008
A cinematic masterpiece in day. Kevin Costner is at his best in this beautiful story of how Lt. John J. Dunbar became friends with the Sioux & protected them from the U.S. Army & the Pawnees. The roles of Kicking Bird, Wind In His Hair, Ten Bears & Stands With A Fist were brilliant. Stands With A Fist & John were a couple who were truly and love and it was beautiful in every sense of the world. This is a must see for anyone interested in the Indian culture or if you want to watch a beyond amazing & a film of cinema perfection.
shahmeer h.
Super Reviewer
½ June 19, 2011
Dances With Wolves is the 1990s version of Avatar. Wait, let me rephrase that; Avatar is a 2000's version of Dances With Wolves. It's well-done, exciting, and truly emotional. It's Kevin Costner's best film,for none of his other's can beat it. It gets you emotionally drawn to the film throughout, and you never want any of the characters to be forgotten. While watching the film, I quickly realized it resembled many characteristics that I had seen in previous movies. The cinematography, the acting, and the story had all been recreated in films that had come out after the movie, and this was a basic beginner of many films in Hollywood. It's a must to see this movie, for it started so many others. Dances With Wolves is about a Civil War soldier who gets sent to an abandoned post on the western front of America. seeing that theirs is no one there, he decides to wait. He builds a whole one-man camp, equipped for any danger of many sorts. He spends many days within the camp, with no company, but only his horse and a curious little wolf that seems to be looking out for him. Indians within the area stumble upon his camp, and decide to make peace and talk with him. As he spends many days with them, he begins to become there friend, and later, become one of them. The acting within Dances With Wolves is well done. With Kevin Costner directing and acting, he knew exactly where to go with the role. He worked extremely hard and to his best in this film, I found the outcome pleasing. The best acting personally came from Mary McDonnell. She played her role as a white Indian who was born to a pioneer family and grew up with the Indians. She has a sense or remembrance to herself as a character and yet she never wants to remember her past. She always wanted to be with the Indians and part of them, and Mary McDonnell expressed that character stupendously. The cinematography in this film was also well done. With huge Buffalo screen shots and angles, this film make the western/Indian side of America seem huge and riveting. Deam Semler did a fine job with lighting, as well. I also enjoyed the score. It was memorable, and was very soothing. Winning the Academy Award for Best Original Score, Dances With Wolves made its music fit the mood of the scene and its audience as the film went on. Its violin orchestral pieces are the most pleasant part of the piece, and the intense part of the music came from the drums and tubas in the piece. Listen for those instruments as you watch the movie, for they make me come back to YouTube again and again to listen to it. The next best part of t he film was Kevin Costner. Not just for the acting, but for the directing as well. He is a true Renaissance man, for he did near perfect directing, and good acting. He definitely should win lifetime achievement award at Oscars or the Globes. He is one of my favorite entertainers, and should be remembered for all time. Then, there comes the slight flaws in the film. The movie was a bit slow, and could've, and should've, been faster. And there was also the racial relationship. There was a white woman in the Indian tribe, and that is the woman that Kevin's character fell in love with. That is racial, for out of all the Indian women in the story, the plot leans toward a white-white marriage, and that part of the story just bugged me. Other than that, a great film and worthy to be watched. Truly, the message to this film was clearly expressed. Not that Indians should be free, which is one message, or true love can be found anywhere, but the main moral of the story is that everyone can have peace, no matter how different they are, or who was where first, but that if you try to make friends, friendship will be made back.
Super Reviewer
September 6, 2010
I am so not a fan of Costner or anyone in this movie. I had to watch this in my US history class, it took forever, it's an overly long film. Plus, it's slow, dull, and stupid. There are other movies like this one, The Man From Laramie, for example, which are much more exciting. I don't want to see this movie again.
Super Reviewer
January 18, 2011
Dances With Wolves is the story of a soldier by the name of John Dunbar who is sent to an outpost at the Frontier where he befriends a tribe of Indians. Directed and staring Kevin Costner, Dances With Wolves is a near flawless film. The story is simply beautiful and the acting and storytelling are superb. Dances With Wolves is a stunning epic as a man befriends a tribe of indians and becomes more attached to them throughout the film so attached that he abandons his previous life to start a new with the tribe he has befriended. The film is long, but it's perfectly paced as John Dunbar rediscovers himself through the tribe. Dunbar's friendship is seen as a betrayal from his superiors. Costner has crafted a near flawless film. The only real problem I had with the film was the length, which when you look at it is necessary to tell this story. Dances With Wolves will surely appeal to history buffs and film fans who enjoy other such films as The Last Of The Mohicans. The film has that same feel to it. Dances With Wolves is a film that will definitely get your attention and is a breathtaking film. Kevin Costner has made a unique film, and this is an important classic of film. A film full of wonder, Dances With Wolves tells a powerful story on screen.This is also one of Kevin Costner's best performances, he truly delivers something great on screen. Dances With Wolves is a near flawless masterpiece.
Super Reviewer
June 14, 2006
Costner's unexpected Western triumph is still a wonder of a movie two decades later. Not only does it take its time to introduce the situation and characters, without ever being boring, it's also one of the films treating Native American characters with respect without making them all good, or all bad, but human. Humor plays a huge part in this film and makes for some of the most memorable scenes. The acting is top notch, especially Graham Greene created an outstanding character with his Kicking Bird. Costner himself did a fantastic directing job, telling this enthralling story in beautiful and unforgettable pictures. To top it all, John Barry wrote one of the most beautiful soundtracks ever for this. One of the best films of all times.
Super Reviewer
November 4, 2006
Quite possibly the greatest American epic ever created. A film that absorbs you into a new world and makes you forget you're even watching a film.
Super Reviewer
April 22, 2007
I can't Kevin Costner total credit for this. It does deserve some praise, but not the highest praise.
Super Reviewer
December 2, 2009
One of the Greatest Classics.
Super Reviewer
½ June 8, 2008
Naive & simple-minded and therefore uninteresting & boring
Super Reviewer
½ May 6, 2009
boring boring boring...
Super Reviewer
April 24, 2007
I only own two movies and this is one of them. Kevin Costner is John Dunbar - a soldier who lands up as the only soldier at an isolated frontier outpost. He sets about preparing the frontier for his fellow soldiers to arrive. In the meantime, he meets and interacts with the local natives.

I guess this movie romanticizes the natives, but eventually Dunbar identifies with the Sioux. He learns to understand the needs and fears of the Sioux. The scenes with Graham Greene (the holy man) and Mary McDonnell (a Caucasian who was captured as a child and is native now) are the strength of the movie. They embody the a respect for fellow man.

Because of this, in the encounter near the end of the movie between Dunbar and the soldiers, you cannot help but side with Dunbar - and hope for the Sioux when they come to rescue "Dances with Wolves". The ending is one of hope, where the movie could easily have been ended much more tragically.
Super Reviewer
March 7, 2009
This is an extremely accurate sweeping historical epic, and a movie that has had an effect on me ever since I first saw it as a kid. This movie is just about perfect in every way imaginable.
Super Reviewer
February 26, 2009
Perfect movie.

Kevin Cosner plays Lt. John Dunbar and for a large majority of the movie he is by himself (and he is amazing and convincing), until he meets up with the Souix Band of Indians in the nearby plains.
Your forced to read the Indians dialgoue, inless you understand that language, but I wouldn't have it any other way as it makes the film completley realistic.

The scenery and lifestyle captured from a time that sadly has vanished long ago in this film is amazing and can be challenged by no other.

Dances with wolves is a great look into the history of the United States, the Souix Indians, and the beauty of the frontier. It's simply a masterpeice.
Super Reviewer
½ December 27, 2006
Kevin Costner stars as a cavalry lieutenant sick of war who volunteers to serve in an isolated frontier outpost where he learns to understand the culture of the indigenous native American settlement. Before he let his ego run away with him, Costner actually made a few pretty decent films. Although this is obviously a very romanticized view of the west, where the Sioux are a nation of saints and even the wolves are tamer than Lassie, it is a very creditable addition to the tradition of the great American western. At its core is a message of understanding and tolerance, and the best scenes involve Costner's growing respect and friendship for Sioux holy man Graham Greene. It has a gentle and sometimes humorous, easy going approach and a wild haired Mary McDonnell makes a much more believeable love interest than the kind of adolescent wannabe supermodel that usually gets cast in these kind of parts. It loses its way a little towards the end as the clumsy demonization of his fellow soldiers undermines rather than adds to the message and it tries to tug a little too hard at the heart strings, but as a whole it's a well paced and well meaning tale that always engages.
Super Reviewer
½ October 15, 2008
"Inside everyone is a frontier waiting to be discovered."

A historical drama about the relationship between a Civil War soldier and a band of Sioux Indians, Kevin Costner's directorial debut was also a surprisingly popular hit, considering its length, period setting, and often somber tone. The film opens on a particularly dark note, as melancholy Union lieutenant John W. Dunbar attempts to kill himself on a suicide mission, but instead becomes an unintentional hero. His actions lead to his reassignment to a remote post in remote South Dakota, where he encounters the Sioux. Attracted by the natural simplicity of their lifestyle, he chooses to leave his former life behind to join them, taking on the name Dances with Wolves. Soon, Dances with Wolves has become a welcome member of the tribe and fallen in love with a white woman who has been raised amongst the tribe. His peaceful existence is threatened, however, when Union soldiers arrive with designs on the Sioux land. Some detractors have criticized the film's depiction of the tribes as simplistic; such objections did not dissuade audiences or the Hollywood establishment, however, which awarded the film seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Costner's Dances With Wolves is an aesthetically beautiful film that displays Hollywood's ability to represent changes in social perspective and the Indian myth. America's turn towards the sympathetic Western, initiated around the 1950's in such films as Delmer Daves's Broken Arrow (1950), helped alter the mainstream image of the American Indian and further develop the "noble savage" myth. It should be noted that Dances With Wolves is not an attempt to portray the history of the Sioux and their interactions with white men as an absolute truth, rather it is a symbolic work that explores the inner desire to find the American self as it relates to the Indian. Multiple myths intertwine through the narrative to weave a cinematic masterpiece that captures its audience's minds and astonishes them with its lush visuals. Hailed as a terrific film by those who see it, it is also a thought provoking film by those who study it.

The protagonist of the film, John Dunbar (Costner), is the vehicle for many statements about the search for a distinct American identity. The quest to find oneself in the wilderness and shed the stain of European ancestry is pivotal in the film. John Dunbar "goes Indian" and finds the Sioux way of life a truer model for a human being, devoid of the hypocrisies and evils of industrial WASP society. White to Red is developed throughout the film, and Costner delivers the transformation piecemeal, discarding Dunbar's uniform, language, loyalties, and eventually his name.

The film stands apart from much of the early Western genre in that the Indian is the benevolent good guy, and the white man is the enemy. Many polar relationships are at odds (and also viewed as American): industry and nature, nomad and settlement, innocence and decadence, Red and White. The film uses clever strategies to validate the Americanness of contradictory poles of each relationship dealing with Indian and Western myths. For example the contradiction between savage and noble Indian is treated by including both kinds of Indian myth-types. The Pawnee are shown as bloodthirsty warmongers, while the Lakota are seen as peace loving defenders of their hunting lands. This representation also affords the film the capacity to show American Indians as both good and bad guys. So the violence in the film elicits an identification with the good guys, which should startle the viewer from typical notions of the Indian myth. Can all Indians be bad? All they all good? Are only some tribal nations good? And if so, who determines which one are? Be sure to question any and all generalizations that you may recall about the American Indian when watching this film. Its vivid cinematography and musical score help create an epic story feel, as does its length of 3+ hours. Its length isn't cumbersome and allows a lot of material and character development due to its relaxed but captivating pace. I recommend Dances With Wolves not only on its technical and visual achievements, but especially with its treatment of the contradictions inherent in modern American perceptions about the history of its original inhabitants.
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