Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Directed by
Yves Simoneau

Aidan Quinn … Henry Dawes
Adam Beach … Charles Eastman
August Schellenberg … Sitting Bull
J.K. Simmons … McLaughlin
Eric Schweig … Gall
Wes Studi … Wovoka AKA Jack Wilson
Colm Feore … General Sherman
Gordon Tootoosis … Chief Red Cloud
Fred Dalton Thompson … President Ulysses S. Grant
Anna Paquin … Elaine Goodale

The Movie:

For about a decade now, HBO has been churning out programming that few networks can attest to matching for quality. Even in just the last couple of years, Rome, Deadwood, Six Feet under, and The Sopranos went off the air featuring seasons of stunning excellence. And in the miniseries department, Elizabeth I rode away with several Emmys and Golden Globes under its wing. This is why it’s curious and disappointing that a new production from a network that had proved so consistent in the past would fall so flat, but unfortunately that is exactly what Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee does.

Adapted from the novel by Dee Brown, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is a film that that details the horrible plights that befell the Sioux Indians during the period between the Battle of The Little Big Horn (1876) and the massacre at Wounded Knee (1890), leaving out much of the book dealing with the other tribes and their dealings with the U.S. Government. While this story in particular could have been very compelling and heartbreaking, Director Yves Simoneau and Screenwriter Daniel Giat fail to invest this film with real heart, giving us a handsome, but slow-moving and dramatically flat piece that manages to bring no new insight into these tragedies. This is despite several good performances throughout the film that deserved a better production.

The main narrative in the picture centers around Charles Eastman (Adam Beach), a Lakota Tribesman who is sent off by his father after Little Big Horn to be educated and ends up becoming the symbol for the possible assimilation of Native Americans into modern American society. Beach does good work here, but is hampered by a weak script that mainly has him looking morose for 90% of the picture. He even has decent chemistry with Anna Paquin, who portrays Eastman’s wife Elaine, but any spark the two could really have on screen is kept at a distance by the director, leaving us emotionally wanting.

Unfortunately, Eastman’s journey from poster boy to advocate for Native American rights is all one note, with the American government simply portrayed as an evil entity. Supplies and rations for reservations are cut, but we are not shown why or by whom. Beach is only given scenes that are markedly downbeat to the point where the hopelessness of the situation seems to infect the audience as much as it does him, but then we’re not really given any sort of resolution.

A bit more compelling is August Schellenberg as Sitting Bull, who manages to make this character seem as real as possible and not just a caricature as Schellenberg finds much tragedy in this life of this great man. We feel Sitting Bull’s strength as he fights both the young men of his tribe and American Bureaucrats in order to keep his people together, and the sadness of watching them inevitably fall apart due to the ravages of both human nature and time. Again though, this performance is wasted due to the director being unable to build a gripping film around him.

Even the film’s action scenes, one large battle and the picture’s climactic massacre, are pretty stilted and remote. Neither are shot or edited with a particular urgency or given a nice buildup. The massacre itself is even told in flashback, and ends up being dramatically empty because of it. Each look as if they were a battle in the middle of TV movie, which is unfortunate considering how HBO had been able to rise above that so often in the past in many of its series and movies.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is a nice-looking, but ultimately lackluster picture. With its languid pacing and aloof style of directing, good performances seem to get lost in the fold as actors give their best, but seem to have little help. Hopefully this isn’t the beginning of a trend from HBO; whose best-running series have all rode out to pasture already, and may have already taken the network’s best talent with them.

The DVD:

The Video
The video presentation on this disc is fine. The colors are bright and the movie looks good throughout. This is pretty much a pristine transfer. The film is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1

The Audio
The Audio track is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and is also just fine. There’s no problem hearing the dialogue what so ever, and score of soundtrack never overwhelm any other portion of the sound design.


Audio Commentaries With Director Yves Simoneau, Adam Beach and Aidan Quinn – Of the two commentary tracks, the one by Adam Beach and Aidan Quinn is much more spirited and fun to listen to, as Beach especially seems well versed in the history of the situation, but is not afraid to joke around with Quinn on the track about little things that happened on the set or about the sex lives of the real people from the story. The Director Commentary is much drier, but is basically nonstop with production notes and historical details.

Making History – This is a pretty standard behind the scenes look at the production of the movie. This features a lot of interviews from the cast and crew and talks about the conception of the piece and how long it took to get it all together. The featurette goes about 15 minutes or so.

The Heart of a People – Going around 7 minutes, this featurette speaks to the film’s historical consultants about the difficulties and history of the period. This is ultimately the most interesting of the extras, but isn’t nearly long enough.

Telling the Story – This featurette is about the film’s script and speaks to the Screenwriters as well as the cast about it. This goes about 3 minutes.

Interactive On-Screen Historical Guide Prepared by the Film’s Screenwriter

Photo Gallery

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
(OUT OF 10)






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