I'm not a Western fan at all, but when I first saw the trailer for Dances with Wolves last fall, I knew I'd go see it. The photography in the movie is absolutely gorgeous. Kevin Coster and the team that photographed the movie did a magnificent job.
The story is very simple on the surface. A Union soldier asks to be posted to the frontier after he accidentally becomes a hero after being wounded in a battle. Dunbar (Costner) wants to see the frontier before it becomes shopping malls, and I can't say I blame him. (:-)) He wants to see buffaloes. His post turns out to be a deserted sod hut on the prairie. He's alone, and while he wonders why his relief never shows up, he enjoys his solitude.
Eventually, the local Indians find him, and they learn to trust one another. Communication between them is quite difficult, but it is made a little easier when a white woman who has lived with the Indians since her childhood agrees to "make the white man's talk." The woman, Stands with Fist, is portrayed by Mary McDonell. The Indian holy man, Kicking Bird, is portrayed by Graham Greene. Greene gives a wonderful performance, and McDonell's is a little more tentative (though so is her character).
Gradually, Dunbar spends more and more time with the Indians. In the movie's highlight, he joins them on a buffalo hunt which is a magnificently photographed sequence. Costner deserves enormous credit in pulling that one off.
Most of the movie is quite subtle and understated. The photography is the real star, the long shots of the prairie. So when reality "intrudes" about a half hour before the ending of the film, it's jarring. I suspect the people who gripe about revisionism in the movie are complaining about this portion of the film. The movie is quite long and leisurely but never boring. It also feels quite realistic until the ending.
While I still think Awakenings was the best movie of last year, Dances with Wolves is so strong for so long that it comes close to being a great movie. For a first directorial effort, Costner deserves an A.
Aside from the ending, the Barry score is the film's other major weakness. John Barry hasn't written an original score in many years. He wrote a nice military piece that's used in the beginning, but isn't used for the rest of the movie. Barry's score is okay, and it suits the movie, but it isn't at all original. If you've seen King Kong [the remake -Moderator] or Out of Africa or Moonraker, you've heard the score already.
This movie is an 8 on the movie scale. I think it will win Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Cinematography.