Smoke Signals (film)

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Smoke Signals
Smoke Signals.jpg
Directed byChris Eyre
Produced byChris Eyre
Sherman Alexie
Carl Bressler
Larry Estes
Scott Rosenfelt
David Skinner
Written bySherman Alexie
Based on"This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona" 
by Sherman Alexie
StarringAdam Beach
Evan Adams
Irene Bedard
Gary Farmer
Tantoo Cardinal
Music byB.C. Smith
CinematographyBrian Capener
Editing byBrian Berdan
Distributed byMiramax Films
Release dates
  • June 26, 1998 (1998-06-26)
Running timeApprox 89 min.
CountryUnited States
Canada
LanguageEnglish
Budget$2,000,000 (est.)
 
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Smoke Signals
Smoke Signals.jpg
Directed byChris Eyre
Produced byChris Eyre
Sherman Alexie
Carl Bressler
Larry Estes
Scott Rosenfelt
David Skinner
Written bySherman Alexie
Based on"This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona" 
by Sherman Alexie
StarringAdam Beach
Evan Adams
Irene Bedard
Gary Farmer
Tantoo Cardinal
Music byB.C. Smith
CinematographyBrian Capener
Editing byBrian Berdan
Distributed byMiramax Films
Release dates
  • June 26, 1998 (1998-06-26)
Running timeApprox 89 min.
CountryUnited States
Canada
LanguageEnglish
Budget$2,000,000 (est.)

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. There are also references to Alexie's novel, Reservation Blues. 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.

Plot[edit]

The story centers on Victor Joseph (Adam Beach) and Thomas Builds-the-Fire (Evan Adams) who live on the Coeur D'Alene Indian Reservation in Plummer, Idaho. Thomas is an eccentric storyteller and Victor is an angry, rising local basketball star.

Victor and Thomas are brought together through Victor's father, Arnold (Gary Farmer). Arnold rescued Thomas as an infant from a house fire that killed his parents. Because of this, Thomas considers him a hero. On the other hand, Victor, who endures Arnold's alcoholism, domestic violence, and eventual child 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, where he has stayed after leaving Victor and his mother Arlene (Tantoo Cardinal), Victor and Thomas go on an adventure to retrieve his ashes. It was a self proclaiming trip for Victor and Thomas. Neither of them lose sight of their identity as "Indians", but their perspectives differ. Victor is more of a stoic type, and Thomas is more traditional (and romantic to the point of watching the feature film Dances with Wolves countless times). This dichotomy continues all through the film and is the source of Victor's irritation with Thomas, and Thomas's fascination with Victor.

Once in Phoenix, Victor must confront his conflicted feelings about his father, as well as his own identity. He also must grapple with information provided to him by his father's friend, Suzie Song (Irene Bedard), mainly, the true origins of the fire that killed Thomas' parents. The trip turns out to ultimately cure Victor's brooding disposition toward life and shows him why his father became an alcoholic, was abusive, and eventually left their family. The film concludes with Victor achieving a better understanding of Thomas and of his unconditional reverence for Arnold.

Critical reception[edit]

Reviews[edit]

Rotten Tomatoes gives Smoke Signals an 86% rating with 24 fresh and four rotten reviews.[1] Peter Stack of the San Francisco Chronicle gives the film a rave review calling it, "unpretentious, funny and soulful [...] Well-acted, well- written, with spare, beautiful imagery."[2] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times describes Smoke Signals as, "a warm film of friendship and reconciliation, and whenever it refers to historic injustices or contemporary issues in Native American culture, it does so with wry, glancing humor. Smoke Signals is indeed poignant, but above all it's pretty funny."[3] Marc Savlov of the The Austin Chronicle describes the film as "poignant and slyly humorous" and is "alight with oddball nuances and wry observations." He also states that, "the cast is uniformly excellent in their roles, and Eyre's persistent use of long, trailing shots reinforces the story's elegiac tone. Simple and elegant, Smoke Signals is a delicious, heady debut that lingers long after the tale is told."[4]

Susan Tavernetti of the Palo Alto Weekly, gives the film a mixed review stating that, "although sometimes the attempt to break down stereotypes seems stilted and forced, more often the result is humorous." She also states that, "Chris Eyre's direction establishes an uneven tone, allowing some actors to deliver performances bordering on broad caricature while others play their roles straight." She praises the opening and closing sequences which she states, "beautifully combine poetic voice-overs with visual lyricism."[5] Paul Bond of the World Socialist Web Site is critical of Sherman Alexie's screenplay which he feels is not as strong as Alexie's short story collection upon which the film is based. Bond also feels the film made compromises based upon commercial pressures.[6]

Awards and honors[edit]

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]