I Will Fight No More Forever

Director: Richard T. Heffron
James Whitmore, Sam Elliott, Ned Romero

When I was much younger than I am today, I had a lot of struggles. I didn't feel good about many things in my life, from the schools I attended to the neighborhood that I lived in. But after a number of years have passed since then, I am feeling a lot better. Generally, these days I feel good about myself and what surrounds me. I have a good job, I live in a good building in a good city, and I run a web site that I believe covers a significant niche in the world of movies. Though with my use of the world "generally" two sentences ago, one may have concluded that there are some things in my life that I am not satisfied with. If that is what you have concluded, then I can tell you that you are correct. I would like to talk about a kind of dissatisfaction that covers many things that don't make me completely content with my life, and that is the kind that is embarrassing. Let me explain with a few examples. First of all, while the work I have put in my web site gives me a lot of happiness, when I look back at some of my early reviews I simply cringe. I think to myself when I dare to look at those reviews, "Boy, you must have been on something to write something so stupid." That's why I try not to reread my past reviews unless I absolutely have to. Then there are things in my life that while I did not personally have done still make me very embarrassed. One of those things, something I have mentioned many times before and will keep on mentioning until the problem is fixed, are the movies that my government funds. Year after year and over and over, the government funds movies that no one in their right mind would want to see. It's hard to be proud of a culture where a large part of it is made with something that your typical person could never relate to.

I think that all governments and countries in the world have at least a few things that make their citizens embarrassed. There is one specific thing - not just with my country - that I am embarrassed about, and that is the plight of the first people to inhabit the Americas. You may call them Indians, Native Americans, First Nations, or some other name, all the same it can be agreed that these first inhabitants have been badly treated by the new settlers of the continents starting in the year 1492. In case you are wondering, I know none of my direct ancestors didn't mistreat any First Nation people - my ancestors stayed in England until my parents came to Canada well into the 20th century. Still, all the same I feel shame and embarrassment when I hear stories about how people in my country (and other countries in the Americas) mistreated Native Americans. For example, I cringed when I read a quote from John Wayne where he said, "I don't feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from [Native Americans], if that's what you're asking. Our so-called stealing of this country from them was just a matter of survival. There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves." There are countless other true stories about how shabby Native Americans have been treated, stories I am sure you have heard and that I don't have to repeat. In fact, when I read a story about Native Americans triumphing over settlers or ancestors of settlers, I admit that I cheer a little inside. For example, while Native Americans certainly suffered from many diseases brought by Europeans, did you know some historians say that the Native Americans brought a disease onto those same Europeans? That disease? Syphilis.

In my country in recent years, there has been effort to give back to First Nation Canadians what had been taken away in the past. For example, in my city a few years ago, a prominent mountain in the city limits that for decades was known by the name given by white settlers over a century I Will Fight No More Foreverago had its name changed to the traditional First Nation name given much earlier. Still, there is still some way to go, such as the fact many First Nation people live in poverty. That's why I feel that we should not forget about the subject, and one way I've decided to do this is to review a movie based on a true story concerning Native Americans who underwent great hardship because of white settlers. That movie is, of course, I Will Fight No More Forever. The movie takes place in the year 1877 and concerns itself with the Nez Perce tribe, led by Chief Joseph (Romero, Hang 'Em High) that lived in the Wallowa Valley in northeastern Oregon. Years earlier, gold was found by white settlers in the territory, resulting in many white settlers illegally squatting on Nez Perce land, and resulting in the American government, represented by one General Oliver Howard (Whitmore, The Shawshank Redemption), attempting to force the Nez Perce people to move to a smaller reservation so white settlers could exploit the gold and other resources in the valley. Naturally many of the Nez Perce tribe were against this, and some of them retaliated with raids against white settlers. When the previously peaceful Chief Joseph learned of this, he decided that negotiating peace was no longer possible, joined his tribe with the leaders of other Nez Perce tribes and their people, and started to engage in a fighting retreat with the American army, crossing through several neighboring states in the process. Initially their plan was to get support from the Crow tribe in Montana. But when the Crow tribe refused to help, Chief Joseph and his followers decided to fight their way to Canada, since Sioux Chief Sitting Bull and his followers had received asylum there a year earlier. Sam Elliott (Road House) plays Captain Charles Wood, who was an aide-de-camp to General Howard.

As you could probably see from that description, I Will Fight No More Forever is different from most westerns made up to that point where Native Americans play a role, not just for the fact that it's based on true events. It not only has Native American characters being significant players in its story, but its attempt was to make its Native American characters sympathetic to the audience. The movie is clearly pro-Native American from the opening scene, where a Native father and son are seen going about their innocent business when all of a sudden they are jumped by white settlers. As the movie progresses, we soon see that the Nez Perce tribespeople are really a peaceful people who simply want to be left alone to do their own business. When General Howard brings up the subject of putting the tribe on a reservation, one tribesman makes it clear that they don't want to be white men or to become farmers because they consider their own culture sacred. Though this feeling is shared by all the Nez Perce tribe, that's not to say that they all act or think alike in every aspect. Some like Chief Joseph wants nothing to do with war despite the white man giving them hardship and breaking their word on multiple occasions. However, there are others among the tribe who think otherwise, and the movie makes clear why these particular Natives think that war and revenge is the path to take. But while one can understand when one Native gets bloody revenge for the murder of his father by a white settler, later on, when he and his friends start murdering white settlers who have never given them harm, that's a different thing. Don't get me wrong, the portrayal of these particular Native American is for the most part a sympathetic one, but at the same time it shows that these tribesmen did commit some wrongs of their own. Which is not only accurate, but makes these Native Americans more complex than a number of Native American portrayals found in other movies.

The Native American character who gets the most focus is, of course, Chief Joseph. What we see of him makes him a very interesting figure. He is not only a leader, but is show to be a devoted husband to his wife, who in the movie gives birth to his child. More humanity is seen with this character by his various arguments against war, and his struggle to keep his tribe intact when they are pushed into both war and a flight to safe territory. Interestingly, and refreshingly, actor Ned Romero does not play this role as the standard stereotype of a Native chief. He speaks more freely and quickly, putting a lot of color into his words, especially in his heartbreaking climactic speech where the movie gets its title from. Like with his fellow tribespeople, he wins the sympathy of the audience. Though you might think that when it comes to the non-Native characters in the movie, that they are shown to be indefensible, that's not entirely true. The American army is shown to be a threat to the Nez Perce tribe - enforcing an order to take the tribe to a reservation, among other things - but the man controlling the army in the area, General Howard, doesn't like what he does. He may state at one point that, "The laws are made in Washington and it's my duty to execute them," but he also admits at one point that if he were in Chief Joseph's shoes, he would be doing the same thing Chief Joseph is doing. His aide-de-camp, Captain Wood, freely expresses several times during the campaign his disgust with what the American government is doing to the Nez Perce people. "I didn't think I'd be fighting old men, women, and children," he complains at one point.

Actors James Whitmore and Sam Elliott do well in their roles as well. Whitmore shows a sense of command while at the same time showing he's getting old and weary (not to mention disgusted) by what he's commanded to do, not helped by having lost an arm years earlier in the Civil War. Elliott doesn't get a terrible amount of screen time, but in his few scenes you can sense his character's dislike about what the army is making him do. It is then no wonder that at the end of the campaign, Whitmore and Elliott's characters understandably don't feel any sense of victory - nobody on either side is left to feel like a winner. But the great sense of the tragedy of the entire situation is not only thanks to the cast, but director Richard T. Heffron (Trackdown). Heffron puts a general feeling of sadness throughout the movie, not even giving its audience something to hold onto like occasional humor. The movie throughout looks bleak, from the constant bad weather to choosing outdoor locations that do not take our breath away, instead looking shabby and undernourished. It is clear several times that Heffron was working with limited funds (this was a made-for-TV production), which does result in a somewhat undernourished feeling to some scenes that lack proper scale, as well as relying on a narrator to fill in gaps of several weeks between scenes on several occasions. But the real strength of I Will Fight No More Forever lies with its story, not with special effects and props. It's a story that for the most part is not only told well, but a story that needs to be told so that what happened all those years ago may never happen again.

(Posted October 6, 2017)

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See also: Cheyenne Warrior, Dan Candy's Law, Duel At Diablo