Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
Actors: Lou Diamond Phillips, Ralph Waite
Genres: Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Studio: Platinum Disc Llc Release Date: 02/20/2007 Run time: 102 minutes Rating: Pg13
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Few get the birthday gift of knowing who they are
R. Kyle | USA | 07/28/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Dr. Jess Goldman's (Phillips) celebrating his birthday after 44 hours' straight duty at the hospital. He gets a small box with an interesting amulet inside and a note from the woman who used to be his mother, Dawn Rainfeather. She wants him to come back to the reservation to meet him and learn who he is. Though he's obviously Native American, he's been raised as a Jew since his adoption and that is the only culture he knows.
When he arrives at the reservation, he finds police crime tape and a mystery. Dawn Rainfeather died in a house fire. He goes the the police station to find out more and is told she was a drunken Indian who was probably smoking and fell asleep. When he sees a gunshot wound in the post-autopsy pictures, he asks for the case to be reopened. He's attacked and left for dead that night only to be saved by his Native American family and brought to the reservation to heal.
"Sioux City" is a well done crime thriller with a message about hate and racial identity. One interesting note, the Lakota rituals have been changed to protect their integrity.
Rebecca Kyle, July 2008
An Intriguing Look At "Adoption" By Non-Native Americans And
Dr. Karl O. Edwards | Helena, Montana | 12/28/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Sioux City," the Golden Award Winner for Best Theatrical Feature Film at the Houston International Film Festival, 1994, seeks (through a fictional story) to address contemporary Native American issues (within the constraints of a very limited budget), including issues and problems lingering from decades of legally and illegally placing Native American children in Non-Native American homes--almost universally without being told about, let alone taught about, their Native American heritage. Other issues touched upon in "Sioux City" include on-going differences and bigotry in cities adjacent to Indian Reservations, acceptance and treatment of Native Americans living off reservation, the inherent conflict for Native Americans concerning staying on the reservation, where employment, "health care," "living conditions," education, and other social aspects, are limited in comparison to "moving off" the reservation. This issue is particularly potent given the attitudes of most non-Native Americans, along with many Native Americans long detached from reservation life. That is, most people just plain cannot understand why anyone would want to "live on the reservation." The sticky misunderstanding of traditional Native American rituals and ceremonies, give-aways, crime, and "tribal" membership are also touched upon.
"Sioux City," then, is more than a murder mystery movie or a "Native American Movie." "Sioux City" is a drama about socio-cultural differences that are applicable to both Native Americans (and fans of Native American movies) AND Non-Native Americans. While the film does take the high road in dealing with the tough issues, it does so, I believe, in order to demonstrate the broader (i.e., more than just Native American) implications of the movie. However, in doing so, "Sioux City" has become categorized as either a murder mystery or Native American movie (with a subplot romance story) is unfortunate, but not completely unjustified. The primary reason for this, I believe, is because the producers either failed to realize what they had in their story, or they were afraid to "get dirty" and expostulate the important issues of the film. As such, for most viewers, many of the issues I have just mentioned may or may not stand out when you watch the movie--especially the first time.
It is, then, no wonder that most viewers summarize "Sioux City" as being a story about "A young Lakota Sioux, Jesse Rainfeather Goldman (played by Lou Diamond Phillips), who is adopted by a wealthy Jewish couple (Leah and Douglas Goldman, played by Melinda Dillon and Adam Roarke)," and is raised to become a medical doctor. On his birthday "he gets a cryptic message to return to the reservation where he was born." When he gets to the reservation, "he finds that his birth mother (Dawn Rainfeather, portrayed by Tantoo Cardinal) has been murdered so Jesse sets out to investigate and prove that his mother was murdered," and along the way, "he gets in touch with his cultural roots (and "gets the girl")." Such a summary is completely accurate, but, because the film fails to really tell it like it is, it also fails to describe the rest of the story being told in "Sioux City."
As stated above, the placement of Native American Indian children into Non-Native American Indian families is a long standing and continuing problem, both here in the United States and in other countries (see my review of Spirit Rider, a similar film set in Canada). Unfortunately, "Sioux City" presents what essentially amounts to as a statistical anomaly (in "Indian Child Welfare"), rather than a realistic reflection of what happens to the kids when they are removed from their families--both on and off the reservation. That is, very few (maybe one in five thousand) Indian children are adopted by a "wealthy" family, and even fewer are so completely accepted that they don't end up with mental and/or behavioral "problems"--let alone manage to become medical doctors. Moreover, regardless of the circumstances of their "upbringing," approximately 90% of all Native American children placed in homes unrelated to their familial heritage end up "going home to find themselves."
WARNING: MY CONTINUED DISCUSSION OF "SIOUX CITY" INCLUDES COMMENTS THAT MAY BE CONSIDERED A SPOILER FOR THE FILM
However, while placing the character into a less than normal situation, it is the subtlety of Lou Diamond Phillips' (the star and director) presentation in "Sioux City" that strikes a chord in me based on real accounts. That is, at the beginning of the film the viewer becomes privy to dreams (not "nightmares" as some suggest) that Jesse is having about his mother and the reservation. In "truth"--if one will accept alternative metaphysical beliefs--these are dreams coming to Jesse to forewarn him of what is coming. Then during his birthday party he opens a box to find a necklace--incorrectly called in the film, and subsequently identified by Echo Bridge Home Entertainment and other writers, as an "amulet from the Lakota reservation in Sioux City" (more on this latter). In a marvelously played scene Jesse experiences (albeit, he does not know this because he has never been taught what one is) a "vision of his birth mother;" or as some would say, "A call to come home." The scene is prefaced by his "adopted" mother's fears (more on this later) and Jesse's "need" to re-read his mother's note. Conveniently, Jesse has just finished a "44 hour shift" at the hospital that everyone--including Jesse--use to explain his "vision." As the viewer finds out later, when Jesse seeks a vision, time (his birthday) and exhaustion (e.g. Jesse's shift)--along with mementos (the necklace) and prayers (the letter)--are part of the vision process.
Following this "event" in which Jesse "passes out," his "adopted" mother says "tell me what really happened." If this is not clear enough for the viewer, Jesse hands the note from his birth mother to his "adopted" mother while telling her "...for the last couple of days, whenever I can close my eyes, I've been having these dreams and...and tonight something happened. I don't know what...All I know is...," at which point Mrs. Goldman carries on about his work and being tired. After mentioning that he has been "given" two weeks vacation (for sort of messing up), Jesse tells his mom not to take this the wrong way, "I NEED TO GO VISIT THE RESERVATION WHERE I WAS BORN." [Emphasis added]. Within the peacefulness, albeit motherly worry, Jesse, like the vast majority of placed children "needs" to go home--a constant, harmonious theme in much Native American literature (and films).
At this juncture I must point out that scenes in "Sioux City" visually suggest that Jesse has been "illegally," "but with the mother's consent," placed into the care of Leah and Douglas Goldman. That is, in flashbacks, it shows Jesse's birth mother guiding Jesse off the reservation (which back at one time made the following actions legally murky) and lifting him up into the arms of Mr. Goldman. There are no other people around, and no evidence of paperwork. After seeing the necklace and at other points in the film, Mrs. Goldman expresses her greatest fear, as alluded to above: "That Jesse's mother will come back for him." I take this to imply that the "adoption" was not legal.
So it is, in the story of "Sioux City," that Jesse--appropriately in a "white BMW convertible--rides home to the "Brown Rocks Reservation just outside of South Sioux City, Nebraska." (Why the movie refers to "Brown Rocks Reservation" is beyond me, because the fact is that their is a "Sioux" reservation, the Santee Reservation, 97 miles northwest of South Sioux City. The only reason I can logically come to is based upon the fact that the entirety of "Sioux City" was filmed in Santa Clarita, California, and the "reservation" and city of South Sioux City were constructed by the film crew.) Upon arriving (as I see it, in South Sioux City), Jesse finds his mother's home burned and learns that she has died in the fire, which happened just four days earlier (his "birthday"?). When he goes to the sheriff's office to get details he encounters typical police "ignorance" and then animosity. After having his room ransacked because he foolishly stole an autopsy photograph, Jesse goes to the reservation. For story line purposes I guess, he goes to a "trading post" instead of the tribal offices, where he meets Jolene Buckley (played by Salli Richardson) who agrees to take him to where his mother's ashes have been spread. Not knowing any Indian prayers, Jesse recites a Jewish ritual--one conveniently "Indian" looking. That evening several off-duty deputies run Jesse down and leave him for dead. However, Jesse's relatives somehow "find" him, and sequester him until he has healed (and learned) enough to go on a vision quest. During the quest, Jesse learns the truth--that the sheriff, Drew McDermott (played by Ralph Waite), was married to his mother and is his real father. Sheriff McDermott is killed while attempting to kill Jesse. The Sheriff's daughter, Allison (played by Lise Cutter) has meanwhile, found a matching necklace to the one that Jesse got as a present from his mother and is currently wearing, which makes it clear that her father has been trying to kill Jesse; but also makes it clear that Jesse is her half brother. The story ends with Jesse going back to his adoptive family; albeit he starts working at the LA Indian Health Services and Jolene shows up to spend some "quality" time with Jesse.
As discussed above, there are matching necklaces involved in the film. One is in the possession of his biological father, Sheriff McDermott, the other originally in Dawn Rainfeather's possession, and then given to Jesse. As stated above the film, as well as written discussions about "Sioux City" all refer to the necklaces as an amulet. While amulet's can be made in necklace form, they posses very important qualities. First, and foremost, they are "an object that protects a person from trouble." Amongst most Native Americans amulets are related to other sacred objects. Moreover, most amulets are individually owned, having been given to them by a private beneficiary (often one's spiritual helper), and therefore would not be so casually handled or (mis)used as in "Sioux City." Instead, the necklaces were most likely given or made in recognition of Dawn Rainfeather and Drew McDermott's marriage.
I have given a lot of attention to the necklace/amulet issue, as it is the least sensitive of the Native American customs depicted and discussed in surprising close to accurate detail (e.g., the vision quest). I also dwell upon it because, for me, the necklace is symbolic of what most disenfranchised Native American children seek out first: some materialistic aspect of their culture, because that is what they have been socialized by their Non-native caretakers to value most. Then there is the fact that Jesse leaves the second necklace with his half-sister when he leaves. In so doing, Jesse can feel like a part of him is somehow staying behind. Again, all of this is atypical of what usually happens. Most kids going home to the reservation are lucky to find anything to hold onto, and their future is usually bleak--no rich "adoptive" parents or well paying job to go back to or utilize on the reservation! Nor have I even touched upon the convenient use of Judaism rather than Christianity as the "adopted" religion. But enough of my introspection; you, the reader/potential buyer need to really watch "Sioux City," and see how much I have not discussed in this review!
I first saw "Sioux City" as part of seminar on Native Americans in Film. At the time I enjoyed the film, but after some discussion developed some concerns about it. I went on to get the VHS version (no longer available), so that I could continue to watch it and see it the complaints raised seemed legitimate. While the DVD has been available for some time now, I have been waiting in hopes that a widescreen special edition would be released; but when it went on sale for $3.99, I decided what the heck. I just finished watching the movie, and, thinking it was time for me to try and write another Amazon Customer review, decided "Sioux City" would be a good item to try and write a review. As such, I hope I have been of assistance in helping potential buyer AND in broadening the viewer base for this very well done movie.
Technically, the quality of the DVD is typical for full screen format films. There are no language or audio options, although there is a menu for selecting specific scenes. There are also a bunch of trailers for other films. Otherwise that is it. I should also note that in 2007 Echo Bridge Home Entertainment released a triple feature DVD, Steve Martini's The Judge / Sioux City / Night Scream, that includes "Sioux City," and I have no information on the specs of that release. Amazon's listing give little information other than the Format is NTSC and there are allegedly three disks. Also, while I have not done a review--mostly because I only own the VHS version--another movie that touches upon a number of similar themes (especially returning home) as "Sioux City" is Thunderheart, which I can highly recommend as superior entertainment and "educational."
Please Note: If this review was not helpful to you, I would appreciate learning the reason(s) so I can improve my reviews. My goal is to provide help to potential buyers, not get into any arguments. So, if you only disagree with my opinion, could you please say so in the comments and not indicate that the review was not helpful. Thanks.
Donna Mccool | Texas | 09/23/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This movie has a gentleness along with the hate. It is well worth wataching. LDP does a good job as usual."
Linda Huntington | Northcenrtral Ohio, USA | 03/27/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I think Lou Diamond Phillips is a very good actor. Besides the movie Dakota this is one of my most favorites. Adopted by white parents at an early age he became a doctor in the white mans world. Not knowing or believing anything about the life of an Indian he set out to find his Indian mother only to find she was murdered but the crime was covered up by a white police department. He was out to prove she was murdered not giving up even when he was beaten and left for dead. Being saved by his medicine man Grandfather, Indian cousin and a special Indian girl he came to know and believe in their ways and proved his Indian mother was killed and he found he also had a white half sister. I feel it is truly worth watching and I plan to watch it again and again."