Smoke Signals – A Film Review

“Smoke Signals” took me through a roller coaster ride of emotions. On its face, it’s not a complex film. It’s a story of a young man, Victor, who takes a trip of self-discovery with a companion, Thomas, from the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation in Idaho to Phoenix to retrieve the ashes of Victor’s father as well as his pickup truck and return. Woven into that story cloth are threads of fire, water, basketball, friendship, women raising sons alone, alcoholism and pain. There are also contrasting threads of white culture, a gymnast, the sheriff, the drunk driver and the red necks on the bus. Most importantly, there are threads of humor and love.  I laughed. I cried. I wondered why I didn’t watch this film before.

Evan Adams’ performance as Thomas stands out. His facial expressions are right on the mark. Since I couldn’t recall seeing him in anything else, I googled him. I discovered that he is also a playwright, but since completing Smoke Signals and another film, he’s become a physician and is in family practice in Canada. Another stellar performance is by Gary Farmer who plays Victor’s father. I’ve never seen Farmer turn in a bad performance and this one is no different. The range of characters I’ve seen him play amazes me.

Before watching “Smoke Signals,” I read the screenplay and Sherman Alexie’s notes on the script. While there were some changes, it was interesting to see how it all turned out on film. The film truly brings the screenplay to life. Until I viewed the film, I didn’t pick up on the symbolism of fire, hence smoke signals. I highly recommend – watch it more than once, even.

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