Making the Grades
Created and performed almost exclusively by Native Americans, Smoke Signals' central theme of forgiveness is an important message to viewers everywhere.
Victor (Adam Beach) and Thomas (Evan Adams) were both infants on the night of the big fire that destroyed Thomas's family's house, killing both of his parents. Victor's father, Arnold (Gary Farmer), saved both boys, but as they grew Victor had a difficult time loving his often drunk father while Thomas always saw him as a hero. One day, Arnold strikes Victor and his wife (one of two short moments of violence in the film). He is asked to leave, and willingly does so.
About ten years later, word comes from Arizona announcing Arnold's death. Victor wants to collect his father's remains, but can only afford to go if he accepts Thomas's offer of money... and companionship. Often inconsiderate and impatient with Thomas, Victor reluctantly agrees and the two of them begin the journey that will ultimately help Victor learn to live with his past.
Even with some moderate profanities sprinkled throughout the script, both teens and adults can benefit from learning how to forgive others and themselves; being willing to accept those who are different; and seeing through a small window on reservation life from a native perspective. Smoke Signals also offers well-constructed comments on the use of alcohol and we don't see any young people drinking.
And with all this, the script still manages to offer some very funny moments, like when Victor gives Thomas a crash course on how to be an Indian ("look stoic"). These are the results of fine writing, terrific editing, and captivating performances from the cast.
Congratulations to Native American Chris Eyre for providing an honest and fresh view of Indians, while still creating a film that's personally relevant for all viewers. If his first feature film is this good, we can assume that in the future of Native American cinema, where there's smoke we'll be sure to find Eyre.