Smoke Signals Reviews
"It's a good day to be indigenous," a radio announcer on the desolate Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation dryly intones at the beginning of "Smoke Signals," and the remark serves not only as an accurate indication of the quirky, humor to be found throughout the film, but as a sort of prophetic blessing on this first fictional feature written, directed and co-produced by Native Americans. A light, entertaining story with serious themes that speaks with a distinctive Native American voice and instinctively pulls you back from the temptation to be solemn and pretentious and engages humorously.
Lanky, geeky Thomas Builds a Fire(Evan Adams) and athletic Victor Joseph(Adam Beach) live on the Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation. Thomas's parents died in a house fire when he was a baby; he was saved by Victor's father. After hearing that Victor's fathers has passed away in Phoenix, the two embark on a journey and learn more about this man that played a pivotal part in their lives. At first Victor does not want his nerdy sidekick's company, but Thomas has the money to bankroll the trip. The two grow closer as they learn more about themselves and their lost patriarch
On their way off the reservation, two young Native women driving backward in a "rez" car offer them a ride to the edge of the reservation, the woman asks them if they have their passports, Thomas replies, "Arizona is in America", her response, "Yeah, that's as foreign as you can get." portrays the humor, but also the sovereignty of reservation land.
Victor is clearly annoyed by his sidekick's wacky stories and dorky way of dressing. He urges Thomas to get cooler clothes and affect a tough-guy swagger -- "you gotta look like a warrior," he says. But Thomas is an irrepressible spirit whose talk is more than nattering -- he has an uncanny ability to seize on wisdom at the same time he's going for a humorous side to some otherwise uncomfortable realities of Native American History.
"You know what's more pathetic than watching Indians on televisions?" Thomas asks, "Indians watching Indians on television." His humorous reference to the cowboy and Indian westerns of yesteryear. Along with the "49" song they make up about John Wayne's teeth.
"Smoke Signals", is at heartfelt movie about the meaning of family and connections, but also a road movie adventure with Victor and Thomas at the helm. Taking you on their journey of coming of age and rites of passage. Giving a bird's eye glimpse into contemporary Native American culture with humor as inherent as their past.
Kudos to "Smoke Signals" for opening the door for other Native American artists and their endeavors in cinematography. The movie is definitely a keeper, if not only for it's comic relief and contemporary Native American culture, but also for it's life lessons and thoughts of our own journeys. Two Thumbs up.
As a reservation-bred kid myself, I caught a chuckle or two from the Indian Inside Jokes, but I can only scratch my head, wondering if my non-Native brethren could "get" as much as we can. Moreover, while there are plenty of stellar moments, the movie clearly strains too hard to attain profundity and gets bogged down too quickly in a sense of self-importance.
Ultimately, the relentless pursuit of DEPTH ends up backfiring: I kept hoping for a giant robot, or a ghost, or a UFO landing to break the monotony, but nope. What you end up with is a forgettable flick praised by liberal, self-flagelating White critics who think this is the best our people can do.