By now the revisionist Western chronicling the horrors suffered by the American Indian has become a genre as codified as the old Westerns ever were. And, regrettably, the new genre is just as susceptible to oversimplification and facile audience manipulation. This Canadian miniseries, based on a true story, manages to avoid all pitfalls, however, filling out its three-hour running time not with tirades faced toward the choir or half-baked mysticism, but with generous and sympathetic portraits of people caught up in the waves of history--inevitably to their peril. When Canadian officials insist that Cree chief Big Bear (Gordon Tootoosis, in a performance of nobility but also with enough of an old man's confusion about a changing world to avoid cardboard saintliness) sign a treaty and lead his people off the buffalo-rich land where they have lived, he refuses to sacrifice his tribe's independence. But the coming of the soldiers is a fait accompli--in a nice touch the whites' halting attempts at Cree are identical to the ungrammatical "Injun" speech of movies past--and the arrogance and casual cruelty of the reservation agents spur younger members of the tribe to declare war. Big Bear is philosophical about what he sees as an unwise move, while his wife Running Second (the formidable Tantoo Cardinal) spitefully mocks the "brave young men" whose actions have forced them on the run. Only one of many scenes testifying to the expansive humanity director Gil Cardinal brings to this film. --Bruce Reid
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