May 24, 2007

Variety pans Bury My Heart

Bury My Heart at Wounded KneeThe horrors inflicted upon Native Americans have traditionally made for wrenching drama, but this loose adaptation of Dee Alexander Brown's seminal 1971 book is a powerful story limply told, steeped in tired Western cliches and an overbearing score. A few emotional moments emerge almost by default, but a splintered focus and uneven storytelling largely negate them as well as the efforts of the large cast. HBO is using the movie to give "The Sopranos" and "Entourage" a Memorial Day weekend vacation, which, in cable scheduling terms, perhaps represents its own kind of burial.To be more specific:As with any tale of this period, the movie is punctuated by broken promises, horrible conditions, willful ignorance toward Native American traditions and bursts of grisly violence against innocents, including women and children. There are also modern echoes of the cultural rift between the west and radical Islam in the dialogue, with two cultures that speak at cross-purposes.

Dramatically, though--even tinkering with history to weave the Eastman character into the narrative--"Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" proves curiously flat, retracing revisionist looks at this era from "Little Big Man" to TNT's recent miniseries "Into the West," another stilted disappointment despite a herd of Emmy nominations. Within that framework, the cast is hamstrung by the archetypal characters, which possess only slightly more dimension than the black-and-white photographs that partition the scenes.

Schellenberg is the one exception, with his deep-set eyes and low rumble of a voice, but other Native-American performers (among them Wes Studi and Eric Schweig) are underutilized. Even the climactic bloodbath proves unaffecting, captured in a distancing flashback without eliciting the horror it should evoke--despite what's otherwise a meticulously mounted production, lensed in the wilds of Canada.

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