Smoke Signals (1998) is an independent film directed and co-produced by Chris Eyre and with a screenplay by Sherman Alexie, based on the short story "This is what it means to say Phoenix, Arizona" from his book Lone Ranger and Tonto: Fistfight in Heaven. It won several awards and accolades, and was well-received at numerous film festivals. It is rated PG-13 for "Some intense images" by the MPAA. The story centers on Victor Joseph (Adam Beach) and Thomas Builds-the-Fire (Evan Adams) on the Coeur D'Alene Indian Reservation in Plummer, Idaho. Thomas is an eccentric tribe storyteller and Victor is an angry, brooding local basketball star. The two young men are linked through Victor's father, Arnold (Gary Farmer). Arnold rescued Thomas as an infant from a house fire that killed his parents. Consequently, Thomas considers him a hero. On the other hand, Victor, who endures Arnold's alcoholism, domestic violence, and eventually abandonment, regards his father with both deep love and bitter resentment. Thomas and Victor grow up together as neighbors and acquaintances, fighting with each other and simultaneously forming a close, albeit uneasy, alliance. When Arnold dies in Phoenix, Arizona,
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There are many messages audiences could take away from the quirky, low-key drama "Smoke Signals," but perhaps the most obvious and most important one is that American Indians are real people, too. The characters in American Indian filmmaker Chris Eyre's feature-length debut feel strong emotions and have their share of faults, not the least of which is alcoholism and tendencies toward spousal and child abuse. Of course, that doesn't really come as a revelation. However, since Hollywood filmmakers have created negative on-screen depictions of American Indians for decades, this movie's attempt to show its characters as flawed human beings is admirable, if not a delight to watch. Based on four of the stories from Sherman Alexie's collection "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven," this smart, well-acted drama follows two young American Indian men, Victor Joseph (Adam Beach) and oddball storyteller Thomas Builds-the-Fire (Evan Adams), on a journey from the Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation to Phoenix, as they attempt to recover the remains of Victor's estranged father, Arnold (Gary Farmer). Both men have their reasons to go on the trip. For Victor, it's an effort to reconcile his feelings for his father, whom he hasn't seen for 10 years. Thomas also has strong ties to Arnold, who saved him from a fiery death when he was a baby. The two spend much of the journey bickering about what it means to be "a real Indian," and when they finally reach their destination, they find more than they bargained for some shocking, longtime secrets that Arnold shared with his beautiful next-door neighbor, Suzy Song (Irene Bedard, the voice behind Disney's "Pocahontas"). For a newcomer, Eyre shows surprising confidence behind the camera and never lets scenes bog down in sentimentality. The film also has a beautiful circular structure, from its mysterious, somewhat mystical beginning to its touching, almost poetic conclusion. And the screenplay nicely captures the whimsical, irreverent air of Alexie's prose it helps that the novelist wrote the adaptation himself. The movie also benefits from excellent performances from relative unknowns Beach and Adams, as well as veteran character actors Farmer and Tantoo Cardinal. All of them use subtlety and charm to convey their individual character traits. "Smoke Signals" is rated PG-13 for profanity, violent slapping and emotional abuse and use of racial epithets.July 28th, 2003 · Details
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