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Old 05-26-2007, 03:00 PM   #15
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'Wounded Knee' tells a harsh truth
By Mike Duffy, TV Critic
Detroit Free Press - 26 May 2007
http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/a...NT03/705260321

There's nothing pretty about history, which so often leaves behind a bloody trail of painful regret and shame.

And though it may have faded into the past, there's really no forgetting a bitter cultural tragedy like America's brutal mistreatment of the American Indian.

That dark, harrowing chapter of our shared history is traced with sorrowful artistry in "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee." The bleak, haunting historical docudrama, based on author Dee Brown's epic, groundbreaking 1971 nonfiction best-seller, premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday on HBO.

And if you're looking for movies with happy endings, look elsewhere.

Narrowing the American Indian focus of Brown's sweeping book, "Bury My Heart" vividly explores the U.S. government's agonizing subjugation and forced relocation of the Sioux people to a life of confining hardscrabble reservations.

The somberly compelling film, episodically told and evocatively directed by Yves Simoneau ("The 4400") from an excellent script by Dianel Giat (HBO's "Path to War"), opens with the Sioux's victorious humiliation of General George Custer at Little Big Horn in 1876. It climaxes in anguish with the killing of Sitting Bull and the soul-crushing massacre of hundreds of Lakota Sioux men, women and children by the 7th Cavalry at Wounded Knee Creek on Dec. 29, 1890.

In its contemplative, understated way, the film offers a memorable portrait of tragically bruised humanity by interweaving the stories of three pivotal characters: Charles Eastman (Adam Beach, "Flags of Our Fathers"), an idealistic young Dartmouth-educated doctor who became an embittered, heartbroken symbol of successful assimilation; Sitting Bull (August Schellenberg, "The New World"), the proudly defiant Lakota chief who resisted the U.S. government's spirit-trampling policies; and Sen. Henry Dawes (Aidan Quinn), a well-intentioned if stubbornly self-righteous architect of the government's Indian affairs policy.

But it is Beach's traumatic personal crucible as Charles Eastman that serves as the film's emotional anchor.

Growing up in the Dakotas as a Sioux youth named Ohiyesa, he is present at Little Big Horn when Custer's troops are defeated. But he's soon shipped eastward by his father, who has forsaken the old Sioux ways and instructs his son, "The Earth belongs to the white man. There is no future outside (their) world. You must go. You must go."

Reluctantly, Ohiyesa is forced to have his Indian braids chopped off and adopt a Christian name, Charles Eastman. He will eventually return to his people, hoping to help improve their lives, practicing medicine on the Pine Ridge reservation.

But disillusionment is not far behind, with Eastman's eventual angry realization that misguided U.S. policies are in fact designed to deny Indians their dignity, identity and sacred lands.

Tragedy doesn't permit silver linings. And you won't find them in "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee," where painful American Indian history is shown its proper, truthful respect. Doing it straight, no sentimental chaser.
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