Films like "Smoke Signals" are supposed to enlighten us as to the inner and outer lives of Native Americans, not muddy the waters even further.
For instance, I thought the indigenous people of America wanted to be called "Native Americans," yet the press kit for this film refers to them as "American Indians." Did we not just spend most of the '90s having it hammered into us that the term "Indians" is taboo? On my various travels through reservations I have tried using each, and found that neither meets with universal acceptance. So now I simply refer to "American Indians" or "Native Americans" as "those guys in the Costner movie." This referent has gone over well with everybody except one group of tough-looking Iroquois who slammed me up against a wall and said, "You'd better not be referring to 'The Postman.'"
Albeit the first to be written, directed and co-produced by "those guys in the Costner movie," this film doesn't seem very interested in examining the whole "American Indian" condition. Instead, director Chris Eyre and writer Sherman Alexie insist on telling a peculiar story about Victor Joseph (Adam Beach) and his trip to Phoenix with Thomas (Evan Adams). Victor's father, Arnold Joseph (Gary Farmer) has died, and Victor needs to go get his truck and his ashes. You'd think that, after hundreds of years of oppression, they'd try for something more substantial.
The only other notable feature of "Smoke Signals" is that it steals from John Sayles' "Lone Star" in the way it transitions between past and present. If ripping off an established white filmmaker is going to give Eyre a tiny sense of revenge for centuries of injustice, I suppose we'd be well-advised to grant him that. If that doesn't settle the debt, we'll throw in Kevin Costner.
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