Forget the South: In Hollywood, it’s the West that’s always rising again. The latest boom was triggered by Dances With Wolves and Unforgiven, oaters of epic intent whose saddlebags are weighted with profit and Oscars. Their success has written the rules by which the New Western must play, so Tombstone tells of the shoot-out at the O.K. Corral with an Unforgiven sourness in its mouth, while Geronimo tries to wipe away Dances’ naivete with the caustic of history.
Geronimo works from a more curious ethical position. Director Walter Hill (48 Hrs.) and cowriter John Milius (Red Dawn) are looking to explode the whole notion of ”good guys” and ”bad guys” during the last phases of the Indian Wars. What they want to put in its place is Tragedy, born of Manifest Destiny and in every sense inexorable.
Geronimo’s ”good” whites are those, like General Crook (Gene Hackman), who recognize that the Apache way of life is doomed and who hope to convert them into farmers. At the same time, the Apache who, led by Geronimo (Wes Studi), bolt the reservation for one last futile foray into Mexico clearly have the filmmakers’ admiration.
This is all interesting, yet it’s a bait and switch. Look, the movie’s called Geronimo, and the ads showed Studi hurtling at us like an untold story. The actor’s fierce portrayal of Magua in The Last of the Mohicans was clearly being traded on, which seemed a decent tactic to separate this movie from the identically titled movie that played on TNT around the same time. But Studi doesn’t get much more screen time than he did in Mohicans. The movie is narrated from the point of view of a young Army officer (el blando Matt Damon), and focuses on his superior, the blissed-out Lieutenant Gatewood (Jason Patric), who can talk to the Indians. It may not be fair to blame filmmakers for the missteps of the marketing department, but I was primed for a movie about Geronimo, and instead I got a bunch of rationalizing white boys. History is written by the winners, all right, and the winners have Writers Guild cards. B-