Rather than play it safe for his directorial debut, Kevin Costner tackled an epic tale in a moribund genre, playing a U.S. Cavalry soldier who heads West to find himself in Dances With Wolves (1990). Shooting on location in South Dakota, Costner marshaled glorious vistas of open landscapes and a buffalo stampede to capture the mythic purity his Lt. Dunbar hopes to find at the frontier. Harking back to the cycle of revisionist westerns from the 1950s through the 1970s, Dunbar's intimate relationship with the Lakota Sioux tribe reverses Western stereotypes of "savage Indians" and "civilized whites"; Costner's attention to Sioux rituals and subtitled Lakota dialogue mirrors Dunbar's cultural conversion. Rather than becoming a Western hero because he brings civilization to the wild west, Dunbar's heroism lies in his "going native"--but even he is powerless in the face of encroaching white brutality. Overcoming negative publicity and mixed reviews that ranged from comparisons to John Ford to outright disdain, Dances With Wolves became a surprise hit, and received twelve Oscar nominations. With the Academy opting for New Age western myths over Goodfellas' gangster brutality, Costner beat out critical favorite Martin Scorsese for Best Director and Dances With Wolves became one of the few oaters to win Best Picture, spurring on the 1990s revival of the western as a viable Hollywood genre.
by Lucia Bozzola review