Recently widowed and freed from a loveless marriage, painter Catherine Wheldon (Jessica Chastain) journeys west to paint the great Sioux Indian chief, Sitting Bull (Michael Greyeyes). Neither welcomed by Sitting Bull nor the US Cavalry that confines him, her presence and intentions threaten a controversial land-for-peace deal that will shrink the Indian territories even further.
…this is one movie that, whilst it is pointed in the right direction, still finds itself in the wake of more illustrious company.
In continuing the new Western trail as pioneered by ‘Dances With Wolves’ and more recently ‘Hostiles’, ‘Woman Walks Ahead’ treads a similar, tonal path. Focusing directly on the US’s treatment of the Indigenous Indians, white settlers and its cavalries are both suspect and untrustworthy.
Naively carrying her liberal values with her, New Yorker Catherine discovers that the romanticism of the wild west paintings that inspired her are a far cry from a once-proud nation now living on hand-outs at the point of a gun.
As a document detailing both Sitting Bull’s legacy and America’s brutalism towards Indian tribes, ‘Woman Walks Alone’ is a solid dramatisation replete with quality performances. Both Jessica Chastain and Michael Greyeyes convince in the lead roles, as does the ever-dependable Sam Rockwell and Ciaran Hinds. Sadly where it doesn’t convince is in the passion and the resentment that lurks beneath all the tensions. Travelling on the heels of the admittedly fictitious and more colourful ‘Hostiles’, this story (inspired by real events) feels slightly hemmed-in by the dryness of its history. As a movie that essentially focusses on the 3rd act embers of Sitting Bull’s life, ‘Woman Walks Ahead’ is a handsome film. With good production values, decent performances and a soberly handled story, it will definitely please existing western fans, however, I think it will struggle with others.
Walking in the shadow of other, more caustically-realised westerns, this is one movie that, whilst it is pointed in the right direction, still finds itself in the wake of more illustrious company.