Michael Apted’s Thunderheart

Thunderheart is a terrific effort that coasted by to fine reviews back in the 90’s and has since not only aged well but earned just a smidge of cult status. It’s a politically charged, racially themed, hard boiled mystery thriller set in and around a troubled Sioux Native Reservation in the badlands of South Dakota. Val Kilmer is the rookie FBI agent assigned to the case, and here’s the kicker: he’s a halfbreed, part American, part Native, and as such the stakes couldn’t be higher or the moral ground more complex for an investigation that’s anything but routine. Politically charged and full of dead ends, red herrings and setups, it’s a knockout of a flick that genuinely keeps you guessing. Kilmer’s character has two mentors, which I saw as the conflict that exists within him from being both a white American lawman and and having Native blood. His senior partner Sam Shepherd is the cynical, jaded hard edge of the bureau, a persona he himself is starting to cultivate, while motorbike riding, salt of the earth Native reservation cop Graham Greene calls attention to his past, the land he’s now on and the people that came before. There’s a lot of ancestral memory tied into the story too, as we see him have visions from hundreds of years ago that guide him through the dangerous and unpredictable mystery he’s trying to solve. Fred Dalton Thompson has a bit as the senator who sends the two agents out there to see what’s up, and character actor Fred Ward is nasty business as a local mercenary who’s perpetually up to no good and almost seems to be based on a real life individual, uncanny that. It’s pulp that makes you think, and has a beating heart behind every bit of intrigue, a film that’s long been underestimated but has a lot more to say than the lurid action movie cover art might suggest. Highly recommended.

-Nate Hill

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