Film Review: Smoke Signals (1998)

Release Date: June 26th, 1998
Directed by: Chris Eyre
Written by: Sherman Alexie
Based on: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight In Heaven by Sherman Alexie
Music by: B. C. Smith
Cast: Adam Beach, Evan Adams, Irene Bedard, Gary Farmer, Tantoo Cardinal, Perrey Reeves, Tom Skerritt

Miramax, 89 Minutes


“Sometimes it’s a good day to die, and sometimes it’s a good day to have breakfast.” – Thomas Builds-the-Fire

For a film that’s title is written across the screen in Papyrus, this isn’t a bad little picture despite its poor choice in typeface.

This is a coming of age story but it is also about shifting into manhood. The interesting twist, is this is told from a Native American perspective. In fact, the entire film, top to bottom, is a Native American production. Sherman Alexie, the writer, did this to properly convey Native American culture, as Hollywood has typically misinterpreted Native life in the United States.

The core of the story is about two young men going on a road trip together, as one of their fathers, who left years ago, passed away in his trailer outside of Phoenix. The two young men travel on a bus from their reservation in Idaho down to Arizona. The young men have never really been off the reservation or experienced life in the world outside of their tiny bubble.

What really holds this film together is the performances of Adam Beach and Evan Adams. The two actors were very much different characters but they had a good chemistry that propelled the picture forward. I have really come to like Beach over the years and this may be the earliest example of his work that I’ve seen.

Gary Farmer plays Beach’s father and he does so with such grace. He’s shown being abusive to his son and his wife, as he is an angry alcoholic. But as the story unfolds and we see his regrets and understand the weight on his shoulders, which ultimately pushed him towards the bottle, we see a different man, a soft, caring, guilt ridden human being that can’t face the wreckage he caused. And like his son, we have to find a way to accept the man for who he is and make peace with him.

Smoke Signals isn’t a great film but it is unique and even though it is heavy in the emotion department, it is sweet and relatable to any man that has grown up having issues with their father, Native American or not.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Powwow Highway.

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