Smoke Signals (1998) Short Review

Smoke Signals is one of my favorite films of the 90s and one of the best. It’s not very well known, but it is worth watching being maybe the first or at least the most successful film about indigenous Americans. Based on the book “The Lone Ranger And Tonto Fistfight In Heaven” (which is hilarious by itself), it’s light hearted, but genuine. It’s almost completely told from the viewpoint of Native Americans which was quite rare at that point. I guess it still is.

The story is about the two Indians venturing from the reservation to collect the remains of one of their fathers. It’s a film about fathers and sons, but is subtle in the way it approaches that, as well as the other topics that it covers. The pace is very laid back, but it captures the miles of empty space that the characters travel very well.

There are several memorable characters in the film, none more so than Thomas played by Evan Adams. He is truly an original character and I didn’t ‘get’ his role in the film until almost the end of the film the first time I saw this. He provides many laughs and some of the more poignant moments. He is a storyteller, after all.

Adam Beach is also great as the ‘character with the arc’. His character also is unusual in the fact that you rarely see a native american character that is presented with the flaws that he’s presented with. This isn’t  the traditional romanticized view of American Indians. Usually they’re presented as mystical in nature, confident and are one with the land. Not so here. Beach and Adams both portray  characters that are somewhat innocent as are most all of the characters in the film. I don’t want to make it sound like an ABC After School Special. It has much in common with some of the best John Hughes film in tone.

Fans of ‘Northern Exposure will recognize at least a couple of cameos along with Disney’s Pocahontas, the beautiful Irene Bedard. Even though she’s on the poster she’s not in the movie as much as maybe she SHOULD have been. I think I would have rewritten a bigger part for her, but I digress. This provides big entertainment for a film shot on such a shoestring budget. It is very understated and low key, but it’s never boring. Highly recommended, especially if you’re a fan of independent films.

It just missed my Top 100 of the 1990s and my Best Of 1998. I should probably reshuffle some films, though, since clearly this would have more significance than many of the others.

5 of 5 “Hey, Victor…”



One Response to “Smoke Signals (1998) Short Review”

  1. […] pretty typical for him. Has a similar central character arc to Spike Lee’s Malcolm X.) Smoke Signals (Bumped, but a movie worth seeing. Native Americans/American Indians on and off the […]

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