Geronimo, the fierce Apache war chief, finally gets a human and fair portrait after a filmic history of Hollywood distortion. The all-Native American-cast “Geronimo” is the first installment in a series of historical films from TNT devoted to Native American culture told from the Indians’ viewpoint.
With the title character played by three actors, representing Geronimo’s youth (Ryan Black), his middle years (Joseph Runningfox) and his old age (the mesmerizing Jimmy Herman), the production plumbs fresh historical material. Particularly notable are Geronimo’s early years and his transformation from a young firebrand to a feared warrior. (This pic should not be confused with the Columbia release directed by Walter Hill.)
Significant from a cultural perspective are Geronimo’s initial battles with Mexican, not American, soldiers; the important role of women in a matrilineal social structure (with Tailinh Forest Flower standing out as Geronimo’s first of three wives); and how scalping was learned by the Apaches from the Mexican cavalry.
Geronimo’s retaliatory strike in a river of blood and subsequent battles with pursuing American cavalry are vivid, savage scenes expertly helmed by director Roger Young.
But the movie’s wisest strategy is writer J.T. Allen’s framing device through which we see Geronimo’s life from the perspective of an aging, fallen warrior reduced to a humiliated yet dignified figure by the U.S. government, which kept him on hold for military parades.
Although this isn’t the first positive depiction of American Indians, it stands as perhaps the most multidimensional character study of Native American culture, and one more indictment of the white man’s horrific final solution.