Celebrating twenty years of two Indians on a pilgrimage to Phoenix.
Born of fire and ash, Thomas (Adams) and Victor (Beach) are unlikely friends with differing views of Victor's dad, Arnold Joseph (Farmer). To Thomas he is the hero who saved him from a fire, but to Victor he is the drunk who abandoned the family. When the young men learn that the bigger-than-life figure has died, they scrape together enough money for a bus ride from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, to Arizona.
And in this framework, laughs galore!
Equal parts comedy and drama, Smoke Signals is a largely non-linear story where the past is always present. It's funny, wise, packed with interesting characters, and loaded with quotable lines: "I think there's something wrong when you don't see a guy's teeth," Victor observes to Thomas on the subject of John Wayne.
Based on Sherman Alexie's The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Smoke Signals is a journey to understanding on multiple levels, mixing fact and fiction into a greater truth.
Victor and Thomas meet Suzie Song (Bedard), who had been Arnold Joseph's girlfriend, and from her we learn how proud Arnold was of his son--even more than she knew. As Victor says to Thomas, "You can't trust anybody." But sometimes in a good way.
The characters are as believable as they are eccentric. For example, Thomas in his nerdy glasses, hair in pigtails, looking like his mother's twin. And two women in a Chevy that runs only backwards who warn the young men to be careful because they're heading off the rez into a foreign country.
"But it's the United States."
"Damn right it is--that's as foreign as it gets!"
Gary Farmer stands out as the bear-like amateur magician who performs coin tricks for his boy, and good-naturedly muses on the trick of making white people vanish. In one scene, Arnold asks eleven year-old Victor who's his favorite Indian, and the boy replies, "Nobody"--a clear meta-reference to Nobody, Farmer's character in the 1995 film Dead Man.
Subsequent to Smoke Signals, Adam Beach starred in the Clint Eastwood movie Flags of Our Fathers (2006) as Ira Hayes, and appeared as Slipknot in Suicide Squad (2016). Dr. Evan Adams became a physician, and starred in a film written and directed by Sherman Alexie, The Business of Fancydancing (2002).
The 1998 Sundance Film Festival winner directed by Chris Eyre has the distinction of being the first one made by Native Canadians and Native Americans. Like the KREZ radio man says, "It's a great day to be indigenous."
Starring Adam Beach,
Directed by Chris Eyre
Written by Sherman Alexie
Runtime 89 minutes
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