DVD - Silent Tongue
(12) 101min (Optimum DVD retail)
Although filmed on the expansive plains of the Old West, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Sam Shepard’s 1994 western is a very stagy affair, switching between handfuls of dusty, dialogue-heavy scenes and boasting some scenery-chewing performances. Not that the film’s theatricality is a bad thing, given that it addresses, in an admirably literate and dramatic manner, the literal and metaphorical rape of the people and the land.
Elderly thespians Richard Harris and Alan Bates go head-to-head as, respectively, a plainsman desperate to acquire an Indian squaw for his deranged son and a drunkard medicine showman who’s sired a pair having forcing himself upon the titular Native American. But it’s River Phoenix, playing the prairie farmer son whose grieving for the loss of his Indian bride has sent him doolally, who contributes the most mannered performance. It’s a haunting film (not least because it was Phoenix’s last) that juxtaposes the spirituality of the natives with the bankrupt morality of the settlers. No extras.