June 14, 2024

THUNDERHEART: An Empathetic Thriller

1992 / 119 min
Available at www.MovieZyng.com
Review by Pepper the Poopy😺

Thunderheart is another one of those movies with a terrific cast, great performances, authentic dialogue, relevant themes and a plot just murky enough that we tend to forget it over time.

That’s not really intended as criticism either. I don’t recall ever talking with anyone who didn’t enjoy Thunderheart, but you generally have to bring up the subject first. “Oh, yeah,” a colleague recently replied when I mentioned I was reviewing the Blu-ray. “The one with Val Kilmer, right? That was pretty good.” He did, however, forget what it was about.

And Thunderheart is pretty good, as is Kilmer in the role of Ray Levoi, a young FBI agent assigned to help Agent “Cooch” Colutelle (Sam Shepard) in a murder investigation on a Native-American reservation in South Dakota. Somewhat dubiously, the bureau thinks the fact that Ray has a little Native ancestry will be good PR and perhaps loosen up some of the locals, though he knows nothing of their customs.

"Pull my finger."
There’s been an ongoing conflict between the tribal council and the radical Aboriginal Rights Movement (ARM), whose leader, Jimmy Looks Twice, is the prime suspect. Ray reluctantly finds an ally in tribal police chief Walter Crow Horse (Graham Greene, who pretty much steals the movie). It’s an amusingly antagonistic relationship at first, but as Ray begins to understand and empathize with the locals, they depend on each other. He also suspects that Jimmy may not be the killer, especially after a local teacher is murdered.

That’s the quick & dirty summary, which I’ll probably forget again over time. But I believe the plot might be perfunctory by design, a clothesline on which to hang themes of racism, cultural awareness and Native American injustice. 

Ultimately, Thunderheart is a plea for empathy gift-wrapped as a mystery-thriller. As such, it’s remains pretty entertaining, with bursts of intense action interspersed throughout the story, as well as some humorous moments. But it’s the thematic elements, characters and performances that make the film memorable.


AUDIO COMMENTARY - By screenwriter/co-producer John Fusco


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