Geronimo: An American Legend
1993, R, 115 min. Directed by Walter Hill. Starring Jason Patric, Gene Hackman, Robert Duvall, Wes Studi, Matt Damon, Kevin Tighe.
REVIEWED By Louis Black, Fri., Dec. 10, 1993
With the same vicious consequences that resulted from Disney bestowing human characteristics on several generations of animals, Hollywood liberals have recast Native Americans as Judeo-Christian moral noble savages. This crass projection of personal values on a completely different culture not only distorts history but trivializes an ethnic heritage. This movie is determined to portray neither the army nor the Indians as bad guys, but this determination has been privileged above accuracy. What we get is a somber orchestral morality play about two conflicting ways of life, the corporate civilized mentality represented by the army versus the wild ways of freedom represented by the Indians. Indeed, that is the story about Geronimo that should be told, yet for it to be effective its moral neutering kills both sides of the point. The Indians were savage and their savagery is modified. The army was brutal, though its officer corps by this time was at least partially sympathetic to the Indians. There is a moral distance here, with two ways of life in conflict. But this film is so tame and dishonest, it comes across as though these people were different factions of socialists bickering in Greenwich Village in the Twenties. Everyone talks like they are in a Western take of a Cliffs Notes version of a Shakespearean tragedy. It is doubtful that any film could survive Jason Patric's don't-I-look-good school of acting and his drenching Southern accent but this one barely tries. There really is no plot, no story, most of the violent sequences are so preposterous, badly shot and choreographed (as poetry rather than history), that you turn off rather than focus. What happened to Walter Hill (I asked this of Michael MacCambridge at the screening, and he suggested this film needed Eddie Murphy)? No other talented director (Hard Times, The Driver, 48HRS., The Long Riders) has made so many bad movies from good ideas (Streets of Fire, Crossroads, Johnny Handsome). In a recent issue of the New York Times they asked legendary scriptwriter John Milius, who wrote the first draft of Geronimo, what he thought of the finished film. He hadn't seen it, but he asked if they left in the scene where the Apaches had hung children on meathooks. They hadn't. In politically correct Hollywood, that wouldn't have gone over. Milius's question gets to the point. A film about Geronimo and about the great feared Chiricahua Apaches would offend, should offend our sensibilities. We should be forced to confront and understand a different way of thinking. This is a more civilized movie, a more noble movie, a remarkably and consistently boring movie. It is more of the white man's crap, much ado about nothing, that has neither heart, soul nor vision. Rent Robert Aldrich's Ulzana's Raid (do not watch this on commercial television, it has to be uninterrupted) rather than this Dances with Geronimo.