Movie Review: Smoke Signals (1998)

Title: Smoke Signals
Release Date: July 3, 1998
Director: Chris Eyre
Production Company: ShadowCatcher Entertainment | Welb Film Pursuits Ltd.

This is a movie I’ve been wanting to watch for a long time and I’m glad that I finally did because it’s brilliant.  Victor (Adam Beach) and Thomas (Evan Adams) are Coeur d’Alene people living on a reservation in Idaho, both of whom were saved from a house fire when they were infants.  Thomas is nerdy and embraces the mystical aspects of his heritage such as constantly telling stories.  Victor is quieter and more athletic and harbors a rage just below the surface.

When Victor’s estranged father, Arnold (Gary Farmer), dies in Arizona, his neighbor/companion Suzy Song (Irene Bedard) invites him to collect Arnold’s ashes and belongings. Thomas is eager to accompany Victor on the journey because Arnold saved him from the fire, but Victor is more ambivalent about his father because he abandoned him when he was 12.  Their road trip story is seamlessly intercut with flashbacks to Victor (Cody Lightning) and Thomas (Simon Baker) as children filling in the details of their very different experiences growing up.

Smoke Signals has a good bit of comedy, undercutting Native American stereotypes with some self-deprecating humor about reservation life.  But it also deals with serious issues such as alcoholism, domestic abuse, and poverty as well reconciling troubled relationships with families.  It’s really a powerful movie and I only wish I had watched it for the first time sooner.

Rating: *****