Smoke Signals (1998) - Rotten Tomatoes

Smoke Signals (1998)



Critic Consensus: Smoke Signals tells a familiar story from an underrepresented point of view, proving that a fresh perspective can help subvert long-established expectations.

Movie Info

The unavoidable synopsis -- two young American Indians leave the reservation to resolve their problems and to find themselves -- belies the poetry of this well-acted, well-directed and largehearted movie.

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Adam Beach
as Victor Joseph
Evan Adams
as Thomas Builds-the-Fire
Irene Bedard
as Suzy Song
Tantoo Cardinal
as Arlene Joseph
John Trudell
as Randy Peone
Cody Lightning
as Young Victor Joseph
Simon R. Baker
as Young Thomas Builds-the-Fire
Monica Mojica
as Grandma Builds-the-Fire
Leonard George
as Lester Fallsapart
Monique Mojica
as Grandma Builds-the-Fire
Michael Greyeyes
as Junior Polatkin
Cynthia Geary
as Cathy The Gymnast
Tom Skerritt
as Police Chief
Todd Jamieson
as Jesuit No. 1
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Critic Reviews for Smoke Signals

All Critics (30) | Top Critics (7)

It's crammed with Deep Thoughts, fortune-cookie epiphanies, and laboring-to-be-offbeat comic observations about cultural heritage, sons coming to terms with dead fathers, etc., complete with "poignant" ending.

April 11, 2018 | Full Review…

There's a particular satisfaction in listening to people talk about what they know well and care about. The subject isn't as important as the feeling.

January 1, 2000 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

It was shocking to realize that as late as 1998, this was still one of the few movies made by insiders, written, directed, and acted by Native Americans. The father-son narrative is conventional but it has humor and is well acted.

December 2, 2006 | Rating: B+ | Full Review…

A brilliantly performed movie....Beach is a knockout

May 6, 2005 | Rating: 3/5

Native American themed story has great moments

October 23, 2004 | Rating: 4/5

A resolutely so-so movie puffed beyond all recognition by non-First Nation critics looking to expiate their dimly-felt sense of historic debt.

July 5, 2004

Audience Reviews for Smoke Signals


Sherman Alexie is one of most important Native American fiction writers of the past century, and with this adaptation of his short story we see the real strife of these people, living in reservations. The film follows a young man (Beach) and an old friend (Adams) who take a road trip to put his father to rest. The film deals with prevalent issues in the Native American community including poverty, alcoholism, and racism from a heavily white population. Having Native American protagonists and a heavily NA cast is pretty unheard of in many films, even recently, and seeing this story made is really quite interesting. The story is a little rushed, as the journey takes a short amount of time. Most of what we see is Victor (Beach) trying to understand the legacy that his father has left for him. We see a transformation, but it goes by so fast that it's hard to savor exactly what has occurs before the story inevitably ends. We're also not sure what either Thomas or Victor will ultimately do now that this "adventure" has taken place. It just doesn't have the strength behind it that the original story invokes.

Spencer S.
Spencer S.

Super Reviewer

I recently finished reading Sherman Alexie's "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" and felt compelled to revisit Smoke Signals for about the 8th or 9th time. I love this film a little more every time I view it, which is easy to do considering that the first time I saw it I just wasn't that impressed. I had felt that, in their quest to have the first "All Indian" movie, they had sacrificed a little quality and technical expertise. Maybe I still feel that's true but it's not something I notice much any more. Now I find myself engrossed in the rich characters, especially Arnold (Evan Adams). Arnold is a misfit and yet he might be the most 'indian' character in the entire ensemble. He's bright, he's introspective, and he's terribly, terribly honest. Even when he's embellishing stories he is still exposing truths. Much like it's screenwriter, Smoke Signals is deceptively deep, intelligent and philosophical even if it's not perfectly crafted. .

Randy Tippy
Randy Tippy

Super Reviewer


[font=Century Gothic]"Smoke Signals" starts at a celebration on July 4, 1976 on the Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation where Arnold Joseph(Gary Farmer) made a stuning catch to save the life of infant Thomas, while his parents died in a fiery blaze. Later, Arnold cut his hair short before disappearing from the reservation, leaving behind his wife(Tantoo Cardinal) and young son, Victor. As an adult(Adam Beach), Victor receives word that his father died in Phoenix. But because he is broke, he cannot go there to claim the body and possessions. However, Thomas(Evan Adams) agrees to fund him, as long as he can tag along...[/font] [font=Century Gothic][/font] [font=Century Gothic]"Smoke Signals" is a an endearing seriocomic road movie that is more concerned with the destination than with the journey.(I suppose there is some symbolism in the men going from the sight of a fire to Phoenix but maybe I'm just reading too much into it.) The movie is about redemption and forgiveness as Victor tries to reconcile the abusive father he once knew with the memories that other people have of him. That is why, as with any story, it does not really matter if it is exactly true, as long as the essence of it is right.[/font]

Walter M.
Walter M.

Super Reviewer

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