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Geronimo: An American Legend

The surrender of Geronimo is functionally brought to life, this time, though, with white-eyes as the bad guys. Focusing on the final months of the U.S. Army's Geronimo campaign of 1885'86, director Walter Hill (48 Hours) stresses the famed chief's doomed struggle against ethnocentric subjugation.

The movie has everything a western is supposed to. Shoot 'em ups. Dramatic showdowns. Military ceremonies. Powwows. Marksmen and preachers. Dusty riding and expert horsemanship. Furious chases, keen tracking. Barroom confrontations. Public hangings. Ravaged villages. Stock characters. No women to speak of. Arid trails, snowcapped mountains, orange sunsets -- even Monument Valley's stunning red-earth rock formations John Ford first shot in Rio Grande.

Another selling point is the heady cast. Wes Studi (The Last of the Mohicans, Dances With Wolves) exudes fierce dignity as the warrior chief; his Geronimo is passionate, commanding. As the soldier charged with bringing him in even though he counts the Indian as his friend, Jason Patric (Rush) instills Lt. Gatewood with handsome Southern grace. Gene Hackman's professionalism and integrity serve him well as Gatewood's commanding officer. Robert Duvall's tracker exhibits the wily intelligence and homespun charm we expect from a great actor whose economical gestures convey so much.

The movie isn't as enlightened as it thinks it is, though. Apache is translated into broken English, implying that Native American Indians don't communicate complexly; the movie's language tries to suggest crypticness but the truncation proves a racial disservice. What's more, one pivotal speech nearly has Geronimo reduce his cultural militarism to revenge for his murdered family. Reductivism is further evident in the film's historical inaccuracies.

Also, it's strange that a movie purporting to be about an Native American Indian legend is told from white soldiers' point of view. And while it's laudable that in recent years Hollywood has found feature roles for Native American Indians, what does it mean that frequently the actors' clan and tribal affiliations aren't the same as their characters'?

-- Peter Szatmary

 
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