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It tells the story of an Indian reservation in South Dakota in the seventies. There seems to be some kind of war going on between traditionalist and progressive Indians. The traditionalists are accused of a murder on an important member of the progressive group and two FBI agents will investigate it. As their investigation goes on, one of them will find out what the real reasons are why he is there...
This is a very good thriller with a lot of Indian mystic influences, but who doesn't close an eye for the reality these people were living in. It has been based on true events, but has been changed slightly because of law suits, but it still shows how the Indians were seen and treated at the time. It's definitely a must see movie and therefor I reward it with an 8/10.
Who should see this film:
-- action/thriller types
-- drama types with an interest in Native American Indians
I'll give "Thunderheart" a well-deserved 8 out of 10.
All the pieces are there: great actors (and acting), amazing characters, excellent cinematography, a believable, engrossing, and simply wonderful storyline, mystery, suspense, comedy. I did not want this movie to end! A well loved movie by many. Rent it now.
Most of all, the actors excelled in their parts. Val Kilmer handled the transitions perfectly: from disinterested agent to nonbeliever to skeptic to reluctant believer to full realization without a seam! I really like Fred Ward and hated his character in this movie. Sam Shephard provided his consistent great performance. I think it was the first time I had seen Graham Greene. He turned in a fabulous performance.
This film insures that you question everything you learned from a textbook. It brings you in, shows you another viewpoint, illustrates the other side of the story, and demands that you think before you take a side. I paid to see this film twice in the theater and bought the DVD when it was released. I watch it regularly.
If I had to pick another film that had similar power, it would be "In Pursuit Of Honor" with Don Johnson & Craig Sheffer.
The murder investigation proves to be the tip of the iceberg, revealing a greater conspiracy to steal the land away from the Sioux. There is a surreal edge to the movie throughout, balanced well with an engaging and gripping story line. Kilmer is at his best here, aided well by a great supporting cast. The action was thick and fast, surrounded by an aura of mystical magic that was best supplied by James Horner's thumping soundtrack. For two hours I was enthralled. This is an excellent movie.
Now that you've been warned, I recommend it. I had immediate respect for the Indians I had always considered worthless. We cannot expect them to succeed in a world they didn't create, nor particularly wish to participate in. The intelligence level of the Indian characters is admirable, complimentary, and believable. I'm going to watch it again tomorrow.
Val Kilmer is superb as usual, and Graham Greene should have gotten an Oscar, but sometimes there aren't enough to go around. The cinematography is just amazing. If you like movies that meet you half way and take energy to watch, you'll be impressed. If you liked Titanic, don't bother.
Kilmer comes to grips with his 1/4 Sioux background and with the forces of "civilization" as an FBI agent. The forces of civilization are the infamous greed and corruption, or "special interests" as some politicians prefer to use. The Sioux are accused of proud but reckless. They're right about the pride. What is omitted by the forces of civilization is the honor of these people.
Particularly engaging is the mysticism of the Sioux. FBI agent Ray Levoi (Kilmer) is gradually absorbed by this mysticism (as can be the audience), and opens greater insight into the real conflict.
While probably the majority of Americans cannot claim Native American heritage, surely, the land can. And belonging to the land, as Americans, that heritage must be ours as well. This film inspires one to feel such thoughts and feelings, especially if we feel attachment to (and presumably, love for) this land, America.
One most interesting observation about owls: one character says to Levoi, the FBI agent, "the owl is the messenger; it means somebody's going to die." That is a common interpretation in Mexico too, surely brought down by its Indians, the common vision there being that of a barn owl (lechuza, in Spanish).
This mysticism is very powerful in this film. I recommend it for quality acting performances, and high spirituality.
- a very honest and realistic portrayal of native Americans (by native Americans, like the excellent Graham Greene from 'Dances with Wolves').
- excellent location cinematography, it was filmed in the badlands.
- one of the most satisfying climactic scenes ever....it really feels good.
- the film has a fairly strong anti-government sentiment to it...(if you're all gung-ho for the US government, this film may not be for you).
- Thunderheart is based on actual events that happened on Pine Ridge Reservation in the 1970s. John Trudell, who plays Jimmy Looks-twice (the FBIs main suspect), was actually there! He is a real real-life Sioux activist whose character is loosely-based on Leonard Peltier.
Some other quick tidbits, look for David Crosby of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young as a bartender in the bar room scene. I love the allegorical last shot of the film with Ray (Val Kilmer) in his car. Very fitting...which way to go? The whole film fits perfectly and usually I will say that many films wont appeal to every taste, however in the case of Thunderheart I will say this ....I don't know one person whose opinion I value who doesn't like this movie!
further note: If you like this one try watching the 1970 classic 'Little Big Man'.
So was this film worth watching for the reasons above and in general...Well....Wow! Just wow! What amovie! As many people on here already stated, this movie is totally underrated. The acting is overall fantastic and Val Kilmer and Graham Green gives truly memorable performances. The chemistry and development between Kilmer and Greens characters alone is a reason for seeing this movie. And Ted Thin Elk as Grandpa is really a joy to watch. The beautiful and vast badlands of South Dakota also plays an important role in the story. The suspense, action and the underlying deep emotions and problems are well balanced through out. It also gives you a little insight how life is on a modern Native American reservation, in this case the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
A very powerful and mesmerizing movie that stays with you for a long time!
After seeing Thunderheart several times, I recognize many of the most controversial American Indian issues that have been interwoven into this parable that is set in South Dakota. It might be of interest to those who enjoy this movie exactly what those events were.
ARM—Thunderheart centers around an activist Native American movement based on the real organization called AIM (American Indian Movement). President Richard Nixon was genuinely angry when AIM marched onto Washington in 1972 and forcefully, but without any injuries, occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs. They were led by charismatic leaders such as Dennis Banks and Russell Means, and although their protests were not typically violent, Nixon made sure that they were treated like any other radical and violent organization of that era.
GOONs—Fred Ward plays the character "Jack Milton," who is based on the Tribal Counsel President of the Pine Ridge Reservation, Dick Wilson (1934-1990). The name of his private police force, Guardians of the Oglala Nation (or GOONs) was apparently too good to change for the film. The violent acts by GOONs depicted in the film—roadblocks, shootings, and the secret murders of Wilson's political enemies—are all based on true events, for which Wilson was impeached in 1973, although reelected again in 1974. It is also mentioned in the film that GOONs was financed by misdirected money that was intended for humanitarian purposes on the reservation.
Bear Creek Indian Reservation—This is a pseudonym for the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Two dead agents, "family men"—At one point, Cooch mentions two FBI agents who were killed. This is based on agents Ronald A. Williams and Jack R. Coler, who were killed by multiple gunshot wounds on June 26, 1975. A detailed depiction of this shootout, along with the story of Leonard Peltier, who was ultimately convicted of the double murder, is in Peter Matthiessen's book, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse.
Jimmy Looks Twice—Ray asks Cooch if the mission they're on is a "mop up," in other words, he suspects that Cooch is just trying to pin the killing on anyone, just to close the matter for good. Peltier was charged along with three other AIM members in the brutal slaying of Agents Williams and Coler (only Peltier was eventually convicted and is still serving a life sentence). As explained in Matthiessen, the controversy surrounds the way the two agents were first wounded by gunshots from afar, and then "finished off" at close range. The case against Peltier and three other AIM members appears to be nothing more than the FBI railroading some of the more visible activists. Nonetheless, efforts to get Peltier a new trial or possibly even a pardon (as was imminent at the end of Clinton's Presidency) have been unsuccessful. Jimmy is played by John Trudell, a longstanding activist in AIM.
Maggie Eagle Bear—Cooch scolds Ray by saying, "Now ARM people think she's an informant." Maggie is undoubtedly based on Anna Mae Pictou Aquash (1945-1975), who was a Micmac Indian (not Sioux) and never attended Dartmouth as Maggie did, but was a mother and AIM activist who was murdered under still mysterious circumstances. Cooch infers one of the theories, that AIM members killed her for being an FBI informant. Matthiessen suggests a scenario more akin to the movie, in which FBI agents might have even dragged their feet to identify her. The film also adds a second layer as a motive for the murder involving uranium mining which was contaminating the water.
Richard Yellow Hawk—An agent provocateur in a wheelchair, Richard adds yet another layer to the plot, in that the FBI was planting its own agents into activist organizations like AIM to gather information and discredit them. Although the FBI program COINTELPRO was discontinued in 1971, parts of it did continue into the 1970s to monitor AIM.
Red Deer Table—The issue of contaminated water due to uranium mining, or of strip-mining in general, is most prominent not on the Pine Ridge Reservation, but on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona. The mining companies, with the help of the Federal Government, invented a Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute, in order to move Navajo off of coal-enriched land so they could strip-mine it. That Cooch is motivated by the land deal adds this geographically remote Indian issue to this tale.
Thunderheart—Although there are 146 people buried at Wounded Knee, history records that over 300 Lakota men, women and children were killed there on December 29, 1890 (as Grandpa Sam Reaches explains to Ray). The famous Sioux chief Sitting Bull was killed 14 days earlier. When Ray visits the Wounded Knee Monument, he reads "19. Thunderheart," the name of the Indian he is supposed to be the reincarnation of, as the 19th name listed in the mass grave. Actually, the 19th name on the monument, according to some photos on the Internet, is an Indian named Swift Bird.
Above all, this film does not claim to be nonfiction. The opening disclaimer says: "This story was inspired by events that took place on several American Indian reservations during the 1970s." Recently, there has been a strong effort from the politically right to show that Peltier really was the close-range executioner of the two FBI agents and that Acquash was murdered by AIM members because she knew this. Although this bizarre version of events has all the twisted logic of Barack Obama's Kenyan birth certificate, it is being employed in a new trial against two AIM activists, John Graham and Richard Marshall. A third, homeless man, Fritz Arlo Looking Cloud, has already been convicted in 2004 for the murder of Acquash, and his strange testimony is being used against Graham and Marshall.
In one of her songs "Bury my heart at Wounded Knee" (on the "Coincidences and likely stories "album,1992 too) Indian Buffy Sainte -Marie sings:
"My girlfriend Annie Mae talked about uranium
Her head was filled with bullets
And her body dumped
The FBI cut off her hands
and told us She died of exposure."
As Apted points out at the begining of the film, this is based on actual events on Indian land, but the reality doesn't interfere with the story. The story is only peripherally about the actions of the US government and Native North Americans, but rather is about tradition, roots and the power to affect the future that their rediscovery brings. Val Kilmer's best film, Graham Greene is brilliant, and John Trudell's small part is essential to the film. The only reasonable comparison is to Bogart's rediscovery of himself in Casablanca.
The "conquering" of the Indians and the appropriation of their land by the white people was not conveniently ignored or falsely sanitised like you might see in a 1950's movie.
There was good acting all around and Val Kilmer shows that he is more than just a macho pretty type by bringing some depth and honesty to the role. I was touched when he admitted to having been ashamed of his heritage when he was a child. That will ring true for many of us brought up in minorities surrounded by a white majority.
Grahame Greene was the outstanding show but the normally likable Fred Ward's role was under developed in my opinion. Sam Shepard was good as well.
Mysticism, politics and cultural interaction all come to play in an eventually uplifting movie. The end "trade" scene and awakening of the Kilmer character left me feeling good.
I have just been told by this site that I have to write ten lines of text in my review. I really don't have much more to say except, if you get the chance, SEE THIS MOVIE!! There, did I meet my quota?
To say that there is more on this reservation than meets the eye is putting it mildly. And Kilmer finds he has a destiny here and he does in fact solve the case with the help of reservation cop Graham Greene.
When referring to Indians in the USA their various tribes are called this or that nation. Calling them a nation as far as Thunderheart is concerned is correct in more ways than one. The reservations have their own autonomy in a lot of things, but they are also covered under the Constitution of these United States although you wouldn't think so the way tribal chief Fred Ward runs things. In fact the scenes of his reservation police disregarding basic fundamental rights could come out of some third world nation. That is the scariest part of Thunderheart and the part you will remember best.
There's not just murder here, there's corruption on a grand scale and that is the destiny that Val Kilmer has in this film, to root it out and expose it. Just what is going on and who is involved you have to watch Thunderheart for.
Although this is a part Lou Diamond Phillips should have played, Val Kilmer does fine in the lead. Another memorable role is that of Sheila Tousey, schoolteacher and Indian activist who has a good idea of what's going on and makes no bones to Kilmer about where his loyalties should lie.
Sam Sheppard's role as an FBI agent is one that never would have seen the light of day if J. Edgar Hoover was alive. You'll see what I mean when you watch Thunderheart.
Thunderheart is a fine drama, nicely photographed on location with fine performances uniformly from the cast. We can only hope that tribal leaders like Fred Ward are some kind of aberration among the American Indians.