Thunderheart is an action movie released on 3 April 1992 in the United States of America. It has been classified as a crime movie, a thriller and as one containing mystery. Thunderheart was written by John Fusco and was directed by Michael Apted. Thunderheart has the tagline of two men who are very different and happen to be police officers. They are looking for the same killer, and in the process, they discover some hidden secrets and come up with the truth. The movie, which runs for 1hr 59 min, has stars like Val Kilmer, Sam Shepard, Fred Ward and Graham Green among other actors. In the movie’s storyline, Val Kilmer an FBI man known as Agent Ray Levoi is sent to a reservation to help in murder investigation. Agent Ray who has a Sioux background comes to terms with his heritage. Agent Ray with his drunken father dead and having been raised by his mother and stepfather was not so acquitted with his Native American Heritage (Lobo & Talbot, 1997). He becomes an aggressive federal agent; rejecting the intimidating tactics of his fellow agents. He does his work well without questioning his authority that is the U.S government.
The FBI moves to South Dakota to apprehend a fugitive and this makes the agent uncover a plot to frame Indian American activists. His distinction from his fellow agents who were not so interested in curbing crime enables him to gain trust from the local people and become more tuned to his heritage. During the investigations in a series of mysterious homicides on Sioux Indian reservations, the FBI finds it difficult to gather information in native Sioux. This leads them to ask for assistance from Agent Ray Levoi, an inexperienced field agent who had Sioux background but hardly knew any Sioux .They in fact call him a quarter of a Sioux. He then finds himself engrossed by his heritage, and is torn between his duty to the FBI and his sense of duty to his native people, the Sioux nation.
Thunderheart is a fictional movie based on the truth, the story was inspired by the events like the Wounded Knee incident that occurred at Wounded Knee in 1973 at South Dakota and also on other trials that took place on other American Indian reservations in the 1970’s (Lobo & Talbot, 1997). The Wounded Knee incident was a fight that occurred between the local Oglala Sioux Indians and the American Indian Movement for 71 days. It was seized by the U.S military and government marshals using military equipment and firearms, on May 5, 1973 and both parties agreed to disarm ending it. The character played by John Trudell also known as Jimmy Looks Twice clearly shows this movie as a one based on actual things happening on the ground.
Leonard Peltier a member of the American Indian Movement and Jimmy who in the video ‘Thunderheart’ is modeled to appear like the native American Activist Bob Robideau are been sought after by FBI in relation to the murder of two FBI agents. After their arrest and removal from the reservation, there emerges a debate about Leonard’s Peltier guilt and fairness of the trial. Peltier who is imprisoned at United States Penitentiary in Lewisburg has his character brought up as innocent and saint like but also full of charisma and magic. His acceptance to be in jail for a crime he did not commit is seen as an act of martyrdom.
The movie is called Thunderheart because of the FBI agent Ray Levoi (Val Kilmer).Agent Ray was given the name by his grand father Sam Reaches (Tid Then Elk). Sam Reaches, a medicine man of the Local Oglala Sioux believed Levoi was the second Thunderheart sent to help his tribe after the death of the first Thunderheart. First Thunderheart was holy man who was shot and killed at the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890 by the 7th Calvary together with other Lakota men, women and children (Lobo & Talbot, 1997). Thunderheart was filmed in Badlands South Dakota, Wounded Knee Cemetery and the pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The opening Scenes were filmed in Washington D.C. The choice of the location for the movie shows us the movie was based on some truth since these sceneries still exist to this day. The Wounded Knee Cemetery reminds us of the 1970 siege between the Oglala Sioux natives and the American Indians. Pine Indian Reservation is also a sign of the reservations that were present at that time.
In summary, Thunderheart is a thrilling movie that tells about the past hard times in America when the government was involved in some unfair acts against Native Americans. Val Kilmer proves to be a talented actor; he is not only admirable but also has pleasant interactions throughout the movie. The movie is unpredictable; it focuses on Kilmer’s transformation. He portrays an FBI agent who acknowledges his heritage, which he had not previously in the line of duty. According to the book ‘In the Spirit of Crazy Horse’ by Peter Matthiessen, Thunderheart is based on actual events surrounding the American Indian Movement and about the murder of the FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Reservation. It expresses the enmity and brutality that was happening then between white and Indian and Indians against Indians.
Thunderheart is a real movie that examined and uncovered the situation that was there and the frightened life that people lived with at the Native American Reservations. It shows us the corruption that is present in the government institutions as we can see that the government already knew who the real murderer was but they sent out FBI to investigate anyway. Thunderheart is a great movie and it has received two nomination awards during the 1993 ceremonies one for expose and another for human rights.
Lobo, S., & Talbot, S. Native American voices: a reader. New York: Longman, 1997
The Independent. FILM / Hollywood, with reservations: Leo Burley talks to the British director of the documentary turned feature film Thunderheart. 16 October, 1992. Viewed October, 21 2009 <http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/film–hollywood-with-reservations-leo-burley-talks-to-the-british-director-of-the-documentary-turned-feature-film-thunderheart-1557645.html>
Thunderheart. Dir. Michael Apted. Prod. Robert De Niro & John Fusco. TriStar Pictures. April 3, 1992