The Painter & The Bull


Woman Walks Ahead (DirecTV Cinema

Producer Rick Solomon said it took him 17 years to get his movie made! Based on true events, this compelling movie tells the story of Catherine Weldon (Jessica Chastain), a widowed "feminist" artist from Brooklyn, New York who, in the 1880s, heads out to the Badlands to paint Lakota Sioux chief Sitting Bull, the Native American hero who defeated General Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. More like a "bull" in the proverbial "china shop," she is up against it from the start. This is the America that was brutal to Native Americans and women alike, relegating them second class citizens; misguided machoism masquerading as paternal protector.

The film was directed by Brit Susanna White and written by Steven Knight. And while Weldon becomes politicized by the plight of Sitting Bull and his Native brothers and sisters, I wonder if his original script trumped up the popcorn romance that is hinted between subject and painter. The real life story suggests that Weldon was not interested in becoming Sitting Bull's third wife. It was the one aspect about the film that felt unnecessary. But given the charisma of the two leads perhaps their on screen chemistry muddied those waters. 

The entire cast is wonderful but this movie truly belongs to Greyeyes. It's a knockout performance and certainly Academy-award nomination worthy. This veteran actor is a Plains Cree from the Muskeg Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan, and he is riveting throughout -- whether digging potatoes or posing for his portrait. And Oscar winner Sam Rockwell as Col. Silas Groves is both menacing and funny, he understands the real danger of both the "savages" and the savage bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. As we know, politics are never easy to negotiate, even in the movies.

Additional kudos to cinematography Mike Eley's stunning camera, with widescreen vistas shot in North Dakota and New Mexico that resonate like Ansel Adams' frontier photographs.  I can think of worse ways to spend a hot summer night than sitting through this excellent adult movie. 

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