Smoke Signals Review by Javier Martín Gutiérrez (Avanzado 2, 2008-2009)
The first time I learnt about Smoke Signals was in class. I had not heard of this film before. My thought was: "What's this?" It was not difficult to imagine a story based on Indian people. A screenplay… for making an action movie, a thriller, a western, a comedy… There were many possibilities. Then I started to wonder: "Who was the novelist? Who was the director?" Perhaps, it was one of my idiosynchrasies but just before getting to read the screenplay and watch the film I decided to gather information about these people. Soon after I found out the writer, Sherman Alexie, grew up on a reservation in Spokane and the director, Chris Eyre, is a Cheyenne / Arapaho. Native Americans... It sounded interesting.
The movie is set in Arizona. It tells the story of two Indian boys on a journey, Victor and Thomas. The two men embark on an adventure to Phoenix to collect the ashes of Victor's father. Victor's and Thomas's performance is amazing. Victor represents the perfect Indian stereotype — very handsome, confident and with an incredible strength. In contrast, Thomas is short, thin, a gregarious, a goofy young man who is always wearing traditionally braided hair and thick glasses. At first sight, Victor is the main character but to be fair, Thomas has some specific weight in this film. He is always making every effort to connect with the people around him. Moreover, it is easily noticeable that Thomas is the man who best remembers Victor's father, and who comes up with the most fitting way of laying his remains to rest. Victor and Thomas together, the perfect couple.
The way that the director has organised the performance is excellent. There is no doubt that it's necessary to have a special talent to create this captivating film. At first, when I read the screenplay I thought there were too many flashbacks. Because of that, it was difficult to follow the plot. Nevertheless, when you watch the film you understand that all of them are completely necessary. It is the only way to transmit the exploration of family and friendship. A majestic direction to show the Indian society, its culture and traditions, its way of living, its values and native roots. It is not necessary to have a lot of money to live. There are other things which are more important, such as freedom and respect.
There is a stunning moment in the film when Victor tells the police he does not drink and he has never drunk. It seems to be a straightforward declaration of a break with his father's behaviour. Another thing I have noticed in the film is that some scenes in the screenplay do not appear in the film and others do not keep the screenplay order.
I have to admit that my knowledge about the Indian society was rather deficient. There is misinformation about Native Americans, which has been accumulated over many generations. And now I have had the opportunity to learn a lot. In this film the director opens a door to the Indian culture.
Smoke Signals is the clear example that a sum huge of money is not needed to make an excellent film. Simply wonderful, thought-provoking and unforgettable.