Phil Konstantin's Reviews of "Smoke Signals."

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Smoke Signalsf

I wrote this review in February 2003.

As listed on the Internet Movie Database site, here is the plot summary: "Young Indian man Thomas is a nerd in his reservation, wearing oversize glasses and telling everyone stories no-one wants to here. His parents died in a fire in 1976, and Thomas was saved by Arnold. Arnold soon left his family (and his tough son Victor), and Victor hasn't seen his father for 10 years. When Victor hears Arnold has died, Thomas offers him funding for the trip to get Arnold's remains, but only if Thomas will also go with him. Thomas and Victor hit the road."

The movie is directed by Chris Eyre, and written by Sherman Alexie.

Sherman Alexie is a well known writer in Indian Country. His official website is located at: The movie is based on the story "This is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona," from his book: 'The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven.' His website on the movie summarizes the story as: "Set in Arizona, Smoke Signals is the story of two Indian boys on a journey. Victor (Adam Beach) is the stoic, handsome son of an alcoholic father who has abandoned his family. Thomas (Evan Adams) is a gregarious, goofy young man who lost both his parents in a fire at a very young age. Through storytelling, Thomas makes every effort to connect with the people around him; Victor, in contrast, uses his quiet countenance to gain strength and confidence. When Victor's estranged father dies, the two men embark on an adventure to Phoenix to collect the ashes. Along the way, Smoke Signals illustrates the ties that bind these two very different young men and embraces the lessons they learn from one another."

Chris Eyre also directed Things We Do (1998), Skins (2001) and Skinwalkers (2002). You can read more about him at:

This movie often produces a dichotomy of feelings. Many people either hate it, or love it. I liked it, although I did find some faults. The story can be taken as an Coeur d'Alene Indian movie, a buddy movie, a coming of age movie, or a conflict of cultures movie. It might be some, or all, of those things. As a person who likes to make fun of my shortcomings, I really liked the comic side of the movie. One of the better lines in the movie is when Victor, played by Adam Beach, is trying to get Thomas, played by Evan Adams, to be more stoic and like a warrior. He wants him to act more "like an Indian." Victor tells Thomas that he must look like he has just killed a buffalo in order to get some respect. Thomas says that their tribe didn't hunt buffalo, they were fishermen. Victor then says that being "Dances With Salmon" isn't going to get it done.

There are a lot of Indian jokes and comments about reservation life. It also addresses the racist leanings of many of the European-American characters. There are several scenes that show the poverty level of 'life on the rez.' Owning a vehicle, especially one that works, is a major status symbol. No one makes much of two young women driving their car in reverse all of time. This is because it only goes in reverse. One of the two women is Elaine Miles. You might remember her as Marilyn Whirlwind, the doctor's receptionist, on the TV program Northern Exposures. It was good to see her again. In fact, Cynthia Geary, who plays a gymnast the two men meet on a bus, was also on Northern Exposures.

Irene Bedard plays Suzy Song. Irene was the physical model for, and the voice of, Pocahontas in the Disney movie of the same name. Irene has been in many movies, and she does a good job in this one. Another familiar face is Tantoo Cardinal, who plays Victor's mother.

This movie is a rare case where American Indians wrote, directed, acted in and produced the project. While that is not necessarily a good reason to see a movie, I do recommend the movie. I see it as a slice of life drama with comedic moments. It is an interesting story, and it portrays a part of America that few people will ever experience first hand.

There are many levels to this movie. The people who praise the movie usually do so because of these layers. Those who do not, usually find these different, and sometimes subtle and other times overt, levels as unimportant or uninteresting.

Fry bread also plays a part in the movie. If you have seen any of my recent pictures, you can tell I like fry bread.

Here are some links to and about the movie. Teacher's guide theatrical trailer interview with Eyre more points to discuss

You can buy a copy of this movie, or of the book, through the links below. Click on the title for information, click on "Buy" to order a copy.

Book Music from film DVD

Click on one of the underlined phrases below to go to that page.

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