Dances with Dogmen
Occasionally you hear on the news about lost tribes spotted in the Amazon rainforest and that is in a way what "Last of the Dogmen" is about with the exception that we are talking about Cheyenne Indians living in the Montana Mountains. It's actually quite a clever idea, much more inspired than I expected and one which for the most has a decent screenplay which manages to explain how they came to be living in secret. But whilst thoroughly entertaining "Last of the Dogmen" also has issues most notably the way it forces in mainstream elements such as romance, action and danger which end up cheapening what is a pleasant surprise of a movie.
When a trio of convicts escape up into the Montana mountains, Sheriff Deegan (Kurtwood Smith - Under Siege 2) has no choice but to get bounty hunter Lewis Gates (Tom Berenger - Sliver) to go after them despite his dislike of the expert tracker. But up in the mountains Gates discovers something very strange as the convicts appear to have been murdered by something unseen. Suspicions aroused Gates does some digging around which includes talking to Prof. Lillian Diane Sloan (Barbara Hershey - Beaches) who agrees to go up into the hills with him as his suspicions and an old Indian arrows leads him to believe there maybe a lost tribe are living in the Montana mountains.
To be blunt when "Last of the Dogmen" started I wasn't expected much and what I got I actually found quite cheesy. We enter the story following a prison bus crash where 3 prisoners have absconded into the Montana hills, all which feels very "Fugitive" like and the comical way we meet the hung-over Lewis Gates, a bounty hunter, as he rolls off of a bar table feels as equally as cheesy. It gets worse and a little more confusing because firstly we have an element of hatred between the Sheriff and Gates, history which clouds their emotions, and then having gone into the hills to track down the 3 prisoners there is a scene which is sort of "Predator" like as these 3 escaped convicts are murdered by some unseen being which comes out of the falling mists. All of which feels a little strange, a little cheesy and lowered my expectations of what was to follow.
But the good news is after this rather strange start things become good as Gates discovers an old Cheyenne arrow at the scene of where the convicts were murdered and after some research and a visit to an expert in Cheyenne history he along with Prof. Lillian Sloan head up into the hills to see if his suspicions are right, suspicions which lead him to believe that there is a tribe of Cheyenne Indians living in the hills having gone undetected for decades. There is something a little magical about this as Gates and Sloan are taken captive by a hunting party of Cheyenne dog soldiers and are taken to their civilization, a lost world which you get to via a tunnel behind a waterfall. And there is a charm to it all as initially Gates is wary of the Cheyenne, fearful for their lives but slowly comes to respect them as they respect him despite a language barrier. But more importantly it does bring to the surface the issue of what would happen if anyone else discovered the seriously protective tribe.
In a way there is a touch of "Dances with Wolves" about it all as Gates with the help of Sloan, who speaks a little Cheyenne, grow to love life with the tribe. And it grows to the point that he becomes very protective of them, willing to risk his own life in order to keep them a secret especially as his nemesis the Sheriff has grown suspicious of what Gates is up to and has formed a posse to head into the hills to find him and discover what has been going on.
The trouble is that alongside this story of finding the lost tribe there are more mainstream elements such as less than surprising romantic element as Gates starts to have feelings for Sloan. Plus on top of this there is the history between Gates and the sheriff who is his father in law who still blames him for the death of his daughter. It's all a little heavy handed as are various moments of over choreographed action which blights the cleverness of discovering this lost tribe.
What is a pleasant surprise is Tom Berenger because as the movie starts with him being this hung-over loner it all feels very cheesy yet Berenger grows into the character of Gates making him a man of hidden layers. There are times when it still doesn't feel right, and the occasional moment of witty banter and one-liners stick out like a sore thumb but for the most he leads the movie perfectly. Barbara Hershey is just as enjoyable as Sloan and whilst the cliche romance which forms is poorly handled, the actual sparky banter which goes on before as Gates being an old fashioned chauvinist struggles with Sloan being opinionated provides plenty of fun. And whilst the whole history between Gates and Sheriff Deegan is just as poorly handled Kurtwood Smith does a good job of delivering that level of bitterness towards his former son in law. I could go on because all of the actors cast in the roles of the Cheyenne are just as good and whilst they speak in their native tongue you still understand them through their mannerisms.
What this all boils down to is that "Last of the Dogmen" ended up a pleasant surprise and an entertaining movie. It does have its issues especially when it comes to the mainstream elements such as a less than surprising romance and the history between Gates and Sheriff Deegan but everything else works. And there is something charming and magical about finding a lost tribe of Cheyenne who have remained hidden for decades with no real knowledge of the outside world. It may have an element of "Dances with Wolves" to it but it is entertaining and draws you into this marvellous story.