Black Robe (1991)

Genres - Drama, Historical Film  |   Sub-Genres - Adventure Drama, Religious Drama  |   Release Date - Oct 4, 1991 (USA)  |   Run Time - 95 min.  |   Countries - American Samoa, Australia, Canada  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Karl Williams

Australian director Bruce Beresford continued his fascination with clashes of cultures and beliefs in this historical drama. Beresford had previously enjoyed much success exploring the same theme in such films as Breaker Morant (1980), Tender Mercies (1982), The Fringe Dwellers (1986), and the much-loved, Oscar-winning Driving Miss Daisy (1989). None of these well-regarded efforts could have prepared him for the public's indifference to Black Robe. Coming on the heels of the hugely successful, politically correct revisionism of Dances with Wolves (1990), the unflinching Black Robe, which presents its characters as ugly, violent, fearful, and complexly motivated, may have seemed too reactionary and too grim. While it took in slightly more than eight million dollars at the box office and did not get its director any honorary tribal memberships, many historians and critics hailed the veracity of the film, and it slowly attained cult classic status. The stunningly high level of attention to anthropological detail extends to such minutiae as how the Huron and Algonquin ate, hunted, traveled, courted, mated, slept, procreated, and even how they fulfilled certain bodily functions (much to the main character's dismay). Despite its lack of financial success and its controversial bleakness, Black Robe belongs in the elite ranks of such respected films about Native Americans as Little Big Man (1970), A Man Called Horse (1970), and Smoke Signals (1998).