Medicine River

1994, Movie, NR, 96 mins

Review

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This fish-out-of-water tale features Graham Greene (an Academy Award nominee for DANCES WITH WOLVES) as a Native American whose loyalties are divided between his cosmopolitan lifestyle and the homeland he abandoned years ago.

The death of his mother brings Will (Greene), an international photojournalist, back to the Blackfoot community of Medicine River for the first time in 20 years. After paying his respects, Will is eager to return to his work and his editor-girlfriend (Janet-Laine Green) in Toronto, but his stay is prolonged due to the machinations of Harlen Bigbear (Tom Jackson), an affable con artist who enlists the reluctant Will in a fund-raising scheme for the community's Friendship Center. Harlen also promotes a romance between Will and Louise (Sheila Tousey), a single mom-to-be. When the fund-raising project is finished, Will prepares to leave, but finds his heart inexorably tied to the people and customs of Medicine River.

While there was genuine potential in this story of an assimilated Native American, the film fails to explore his cultural ambivalence except in the most obvious and superficial ways. The film only scratches the surface of Blackfoot customs and lifestyle, mostly by trotting out two of the tribe's revered elders. The younger set in Medicine River are uncomplicated contemporary folk, who all seem inordinately preoccupied with tricking Will into staying on. Greene and Tousey give earnest performances and their love story is mildly engaging, but the emphasis is on comedy, and the screenplay generally fails to achieve the laughs it strives for. One notable exception is a humorous scene in which Will tries to sing a Native American song for his surrogate daughter (whom he named for a sign on a hospital wall). Unable to recall the tune, he slips into "The Name Game" ("South Wing, South Wing, Bo-Bouth Wing, Banana Fanna," etc.) while hopping down a hospital corridor. This unself-conscious clowning suits Greene better than playing the bemused straight man. A 1992 Canadian production released to the home video market in 1994, MEDICINE RIVER was filmed in Alberta, against picturesque settings which should have been exploited more. leave a comment

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