Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

  • Review Date: December 22, 2009
  • Rated: NR
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2007
  • Running Time: 132 minutes

Common Sense Media says

Melancholy saga of twilight of the American Indian.
  • Review Date: December 22, 2009
  • Rated: NR
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2007
  • Running Time: 132 minutes

Age(i)

2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
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15
16
17

Quality(i)

 

What parents need to know

Positive messages

While the story is sad, there is a sense of the indominatable spirit of the Indians in not surrendering
completely to the white man. While it's stated that  Indian tribes warred against each other when they should have been pulling together against the European invaders, the point is made that no tribe, village, or clan should have to accept what Washington D.C. did. The usually overlooked role of Canada in the U.S.-Indian wars gets some illumination here.

Positive role models

Charles Eastman is an especially admirable character, though he ultimately laments his choosing the "white man's path." The proud, stubborn Sitting Bull is contrasted with another chief, Red Cloud,
who trusted the white man to treat the Indians fairly. What happens strongly supports Sitting Bull's position.

Violence

Rifle and mortar fire shed blood in battle scenes, and there are knifings and scalpings. A bloody closeup of a leg wound, and bullets are dug out of patients without sedation. A pair of Indians are whipped. Wild animals, horses, and cattle are also slain. Dead bodies of epidemic victims shown, including children. One Indian chief compares another (who cooperates with the white man) to a woman being raped.

Sex
Not applicable
Language

"Balls," "s--t," plus a single use of the f-word (by a US president).

Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Indians are shown lining up for free alcohol, in the form of vile-tasting medication.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this production, based on the nonfiction book by Dee Brown, has two intense Indian-massacre scenes -- one at the Little Big Horn in which Indians do the massacring, the other the Wounded Knee battle in which Indians are largely victims. Women and children are shown perishing in killings and disease epidemics, and a schoolhouse environment (for Indian children) seems bleak and oppressive. The downbeat tale puts across a strong theme of mistrust of the U.S. government.

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What's the story?

1876. The Little Big Horn massacre of General Custer (shown from a distance, in a striking, overhead shot) happens under Indian warriors led by Lakota Sioux Chief Sitting Bull (August Schellenberg). The victory is a last hurrah for the Indians trying to hold onto sacred Black Hills lands, in the wake of a series of peace treaties largely broken/rewritten by the whites greedy for railroad and mining territory. A U.S. Senator, Henry Dawes (Aidan Quinn) favors a peaceful policy of relocating the Indians to "Reservations," government-sustained but barren lands, to be Christianized, farm-trained, and cajoled to legally sell the Black Hills. Even Sitting Bull, weary of battles and casualties, turns in his rifle and becomes a Reservation celebrity, signing autographs and posing for photos. Dawes' biggest "success story," Charles Eastman (Adam Beach), a college-educated Indian doctor who was a boyhood fighter at Little Big Horn, comes to work at the Reservation, but he's appalled by the poverty, indolence, deadly fever epidemics, and restlessness that finally lead to an outburst of bloody violence at a place called Wounded Knee.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE is a vividly textured, high-quality cable movie from Law & Order creator Dick Wolf. There is resemblance between this Old West and that moody police-procedural where tense court hearings and suspect Q&As outnumber car chases. Here a dispiriting rundown of betrayal and broken treaties by Washington, D.C., turns into comprehensible drama, and if the results aren't action-packed, the thoughtful approach should still haunt older kids, especially those with the school-reading assignment When the Legends Die.

The most striking aspect, besides historical portraits of such prominent natives as Eastman, Sitting  Bull, and Red Cloud, is how most whites aren't simplistic baddies, the usual revisionist-Western take. Instead Dawes and others actually believe they're doing the Indians a great favor by "civilizing" the tribes and behaving righteously in forcing the Lakota off their land and crushing their culture.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about this depiction of Native Americans. How is it different than the old cowboys-vs-Indians shoot-'em-ups? What other impressions of Indians do you get from movies?

  • Does watching this film make you feel any different about Washington D.C. and government policies today? What would you have done in President Grant's position?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:May 27, 2007
DVD release date:September 11, 2007
Cast:Aidan Quinn, Anna Paquin, August Schellenberg
Director:Yves Simoneau
Studio:HBO
Genre:Drama
Run time:132 minutes
MPAA rating:NR

This review of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee was written by

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