The film's lasting achievement is its interweaving of the two distinct threads of western history--the triumph of westward expansion from the urban areas of the East, and the tragic dispossession of the Native Americans who had populated North America for thousands of years. Where previous historical perspectives tended to emphasize one direction or the other, The West (written by Geoffrey C. Ward and Dayton Duncan) achieves a delicate balance, illustrating how nearly every story of pioneering idealism was countered by incidents of tragic loss and suffering.
Brilliantly narrated by Peter Coyote, the series gains further depth and authority through interviews with more than 75 historians and experts. Foremost among them is N. Scott Momaday, scholar, historian, and Kiowa Indian, whose contribution to the series is deeply affecting. Other experts include historians Richard White, Patricia Nelson Limerick, and Stephen Ambrose; writers Michael Dorris and Maxine Hong Kingston; Lakota descendant Charlotte Black Elk; former Texas governor Ann Richards; and many others. When viewed in its entirety, this outstanding, truly epic documentary combines all of its separate episodes to form an emotionally involving narrative of astonishing depth and unprecedented accuracy. To say that The West is essential viewing would be an understatement; this film should be considered mandatory to any balanced awareness of America's turbulent and glorious westward movement. --Jeff Shannon