Geronimo: An American Legend (1993): Walter Hill’s Western, Starring Jason Patric

Walter Hill’s Geronimo: An American Legend continues the revisionist trend that began three years ago with Dances With Wolves: A conscious attempt to restore the dignity of the Native American. Set in 1885-6, the tale focuses on the proud Chiricahua Apache leader (Wes Studi) and his conflict with the shifting policies of the white military establishment.

Action director Hill, who works here on an impressive epic scale, pays homage to John Ford, the Master of Westerns, in the way that he positions the chase and fight scenes against the panoramic vistas of the Southwest. Yet, unlike Ford’s great Westerns, this Geronimo is curiously neither very absorbing nor emotionally stirring. The voice-over narration, that frames the events, also distances the viewers from the story. Ultimately, the tragic fate of Geronimo doesn’t register due to the fact that he isn’t always the focal figure; there’s more concern with the divisions within the white establishment as to how to handle the “Indian problem.”

Acting-wise, the film belongs to its two supporting actors: the always excellent Gene Hackman, as Brig. Gen. Crook, a liberal Indian fighter, and particularly Robert Duvall, as Al Sieber, a veteran scout. Both performers bring humor, irony and resonance to a picture that badly lacks these qualities. In the main role of the somehow ambiguous Lt. Charles Gatewood, the handsome Jason Patrick severely underplays, often sounding in his whispery brooding like the younger Marlon Brando.

I don’t know what the target audience for Geronimo is, but listening to its level of discourse, I would say it was made for adolescents. Asked in one climactic encounter by Geronimo, “Who are you” Gatewood coolly answers: “I am a man, just like you.”

Oscar Nominations: 1

Sound

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winner was Jurassic Park.