First the good news. The title role in the film Geronimo: An American Legend is played by an honest to good ness Native American, Wes Studi, who played the villainous Magua in The Last of the Mohicans. It also has one of the most memorable entrances of a lead character in movies since insert your favourite movie here (remember Marlon Brando’s first appearance in Apocalypse Now?)
A friend with whom I went to see Ceronimo described it as “spine-tingling.” Not in so many words, or English words for that matter, but you know what I mean. The film has some great action scenes, good performances by Robert Duvall and Gene Hackman, was nominated for an Academy Award for its sound (what?) and the soundtrack is by none other than Ry Cooder (Crossroads). But it doesn’t even attempt to tell the whole story of Geronimo.
There is no mention of his early or later years. Too bad they only concentrated on the most sad and violent part of his life.
An interesting anecdote I read about Geronimo told of the time he was performing in a wild west show long after the Indian wars, when he spotted a former officer of the U.S Army in the audience who had betrayed him. Geronimo, never one to forget a wrong committed against him, jumped off his horse and lunged at his former enemy. The audience, thinking it was part of the show, broke into applause and cheers. Geronimo had to be physically restrained. I guess he never lost his fighting spirit. Scenes like this would have given the movie a much-needed lift.
Anyway, the film also contains subtitles which can be hard to read when viewed on the standard-sized TV screen. Jason Patric’s southern gentleman accent I found just plain annoying. But what can you expect from Hollywood, right?
Comparisons with Dances With Wolves are unavoidable here. It’s not as good, although the film has some humorous moments, black though they may be, such as when the U.S. cavalry rides into an Apache village that had been burned to the ground and its natives massacred, and one of them asks who might be responsible. Gene Hackman’s character replies, “Must have been Texans, lowest form of whiteman.”
Geronimo: An American Legend is supposed to be the true story of the leader of one of the last group of Native Americans to resist the government’s implementation of the reservation system in the United States. Geronimo or Goyakla (He Who Yawns), as he was known among his people, was the war shaman of the Chiracahua Apache who led the last band fighting to get their land back against the U.S. army in the late 1800s. His band was 150 strong to the U.S. army’s 5,000 if you can imagine.
Geronimo’s tale deserves a much better treatment. Next time, if there is a next time, why not have natives produce, direct, write and star in it? As long as (God forbid) Lou Diamond Philips, Burt Reynolds or Cher aren’t involved. Maybe Alanis Obomsawin could direct it! ! ! Just a thought. The movie isn’t as bad as I make it out to be and the maker of the film meant well, so if you get a chance to see it on the big screen and only on the big screen, don’t miss it. It’s “entertaining.”
It’s very educational. Not!