More About Thunderheart
Agent Ray Levoi (Val Kilmer) buried his Native American heritage with the body of his drunken father. Raised by his white mother and stepfather, he becomes a gung-ho federal agent who never questions the authority of the U.S. government. Then Levoi finds himself in a real-life version of "cowboys and Indians" when the FBI moves onto a South Dakota reservation to apprehend a fugitive. Once in the community, the agent uncovers a plot to frame American Indian activists. With the help of an Indian sheriff and shaman (Graham Greene), he learns to accept a long-denied part of himself and to fight for his people. Created after the success of DANCES WITH WOLVES and LAST OF THE MOHICANS, director Michael Apted's film takes the buddy-cop genre and uses it to explore the sordid politics of reservation life in the United States. The film was released just weeks after Apted's documentary INCIDENT AT OGLALA, which examines the unjust imprisonment of Indian activist Leonard Peltier. Together the two films form a powerful plea for recognition of the mistreatment of Native Americans.
Main Cast & Crew
Michael Apted - Director
Chief Ted Thin Elk
Fred Dalton Thompson
In director Michael Apted's THUNDERHEART, a cocky young FBI agent--because of his part-Sioux ancestry--is assigned to a high-pressure, politically volatile murder investigation on an American Indian reservation.
Theatrical release: April 1, 1992. Shot on location at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. This is the first feature film shot on that location. Pine Ridge is the second largest reservation in North America, with a population of about 18,000. THUNDERHEART grossed nearly $23 million at the domestic box office. The film employed over 250 Native American extras. Former American Indian Movement chairman John Trudell plays the part of the FBI suspect, Jimmy Looks Twice. Trudell was head of AIM when Leonard Peltier was convicted. He met director Michael Apted while working on INCIDENT AT OGLALA. Trudell is also a musician and poet. The film is partially based on screenwriter-producer John Fusco's experiences as an adopted relative of the Oglala Nation. He spent five years at Pine Ridge and met the Oglala Sioux medicine man, Chief Frank Fools Crow, who became the inspiration for the character of Grandpa Reaches. "Grandpa Reaches sees Ray as a young man who is materialistic and has lost touch with the earth and with himself," Fusco said in the film's production notes. "Grandpa can see all these things just in the accoutrements that are all over Ray--his expensive watch, hiding behind the sun glasses and all. So Grandpa proceeds to trade these things away from him and strip him down, which is something Grandpa Fools Crow used to do." Grandpa Fools Crow died at the age of 100, one year before production on THUNDERHEART began. "The relationship I had with Grandpa Fools Crow was the key that unlocked this story for me," Fusco stated. The film was also inspired by what happened on the Pine Ridge Reservation between 1971 and 1978, when the reservation was divided into two factions, traditionalists and assimilationists. The conflict between the two groups led to many unsolved murders. This is the first feature where Robert De Niro served solely as a producer.
"...Kilmer and Shepard give strong performances....[The] camera sweeps breathtakingly across the Badlands..." - 04/16/1992 Rolling Stone, p.93
"...[Conveyed with] curiosity and intelligence....Apted is a skillful storyteller..." - 04/03/1992 New York Times, p.C12
"...Enlivened by some appealing acting and vivid camerawork..." - 04/03/1992 Los Angeles Times, p.F1
"...What's most absorbing about THUNDERHEART is its sense of place and time....We feel that we're really there, and that the people in the story really occupy land they stand on..." - 04/03/1992 Chicago Sun-Times, p.51