Lt. John Dunbar is a Civil War veteran, exiled to a remote outpost to keep an eye on the Sioux Indians. Alienated from his own, Dunbar befriends and eventually joins the Sioux.
Advance word on heartthrob Kevin Costner's directorial debut, this three-hour ode to the noble Native American - some of it in Sioux with English subtitles - had Hollywood wags referring with thinly-disguised glee to Kevin's Gate. Almost astonishingly, however, Dances With Wolves is not only a personal and artistic triumph for Costner but a box-office winner with $81 million taken in the US after just ten weeks, a success continued on the film's UK release.
Dances with Wolves is the name the Indians give to Costner's Lt. Dunbar, a Civil War hero posted to the frontier where he mans an abandoned fort. He is by stages terrified, intrigued, then captivated by his feather-decked "neighbours" and their way of life. And the story of how he goes native, finds himself and comes by his new name is as enchanting a Western as ever was - rich, lyrical, warm and full of unlooked-for laughs.
In the director's chair, Costner proves a real pro at putting over Michael Blake's yarn, taking each elegaic, mystical or romantic interlude to an exciting action pay-off, with battles, buffalo, the spectacular plains of South Dakota and Costner's derriere all gifts to Aussie cinematographer and Mad Max veteran Dean Semler. The Indians are portrayed with unprecedented affection and domestic detail as proud, quick and humorous by a cast of Native Americans who are both magnificent looking and engaging, notably one Graham Greene as shaman Kicking Bird - sporting absolutely the haircut of the year - and Rodney A. Grant as the splendidly-titled Wind In His Hair.
Of sentiment there is too much and the final sequence when the white men inevitably rear their heads and raise their rifles so fraught with tears and peril as to be exhaustingly melodramatic. Come Oscar night, however, it was no surprise to see this evocative, hugely enjoyable epic take home the big gongs.
Dances still enthrals with its sweeping direction, gentle humour and lack of pretension. A magnificent old-school-epic directorial debut.