Smoke Signals
directed by Chris Eyre
(Miramax, 1998)

Smoke Signals is a 1998 film based on short stories from Sherman Alexie's book Tonto & the Lone Ranger Fistfight in Heaven. Chris Eyre, who won acclaim for Skins, directed Smoke Signals first. This is one of the first films directed, written, acted and crewed by a full Native American team.

The story is about two unlikely young Native American men who are traveling together to retrieve Arnold Joseph's (Gary Farmer's) ashes. Victor Joseph (Adam Beach) is the son that Arnold abandoned 10 years before when his parents got into a drunken brawl. Thomas Builds-the-Fire (Evan Adams) is the same age as Victor and was saved by Arnold in a house fire that killed both of his parents.

Both have an entirely different point of view of the man who in a sense gave them their lives. Along the way, Thomas nearly drives Victor crazy telling stories of his father. Victor remains silent and angry about the family's parting. They are certainly an odd pairing, Victor is strong and athletic and Thomas is somewhat geeky and mystic -- probably the only young man on the rez who wore a suit.

In Phoenix, they meet Suzy Song (Irene Bedard) who loved Arnold and has an entirely different story to tell. Nobody's story is completely true, but when all the disjointed pieces come together they make a poetic sense.

Both the journey and the stories are beautifully told with humor and grace. The way the young Native Americans live is told with a warmhearted empathy -- for instance, the local reservation radio station has a daily traffic report from a van that's been broken down for years. A couple of the young girls drive an old beater that will only run going backward. The music is a great counterpoint to the tale, just enough but not overpowering.

Overall, Smoke Signals is very watchable and definitely a film I would want to own and recommend to friends.

review by
Becky Kyle

16 August 2008

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