Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Michael Apted|
|Produced by|| Robert De Niro |
|Written by||John Fusco|
|Music by||James Horner|
|Edited by||Ian Crafford|
|Distributed by||TriStar Pictures|
Thunderheart is an American Neo-Western mystery film directed by Michael Apted from an original screenplay by John Fusco. The film is a loosely based fictional portrayal of events relating to the Wounded Knee incident in 1973,when followers of the American Indian Movement seized the South Dakota town of Wounded Knee in protest against federal government policy regarding Native Americans. Incorporated in the plot is the character of Ray Levoi, played by actor Val Kilmer, as an FBI agent with Sioux heritage investigating a homicide on a Native American reservation. Sam Shepard, Graham Greene, Fred Ward and Sheila Tousey star in principal supporting roles. Also in 1992, Apted had previously directed a documentary surrounding a Native American activist episode involving the murder of FBI agents titled Incident at Oglala . The documentary depicts the indictment of activist Leonard Peltier during a 1975 shootout on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
The film was a co-production between the motion picture studios of TriStar Pictures, Tribeca Productions, and Waterhorse Productions. It was commercially distributed by TriStar Pictures theatrically, and by Columbia TriStar Home Video for home media. Thunderheart explores civil topics, such as discrimination, political activism and murder.Following its cinematic release, the film garnered several award nominations from the Political Film Society. On November 24, 1992, the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack was released by the Intrada Records label. The film score was composed by musician James Horner.
Thunderheart premiered in theaters in-wide release in the United States on April 3, 1992 grossing $22,660,758 in domestic ticket sales. The film was considered a minor financial success after its theatrical run, and was met with generally positive critical reviews before its initial screening in cinemas. The widescreen DVD edition of the film featuring scene selections and the theatrical trailer, was released in the United States on September 29, 1998.
After Leo Fast Elk, a tribal council member of a Native American reservation in South Dakota, is murdered, FBI Agent William Dawes assigns Agent Ray Levoi to help investigate. The latter is chosen for his mixed Sioux heritage, which might assist in the inquiry as they interview local townspeople. Ray is partnered with Agent Frank "Cooch" Coutelle, who has diligently worked with tribal council president Jack Milton to apprehend a prime suspect: Aboriginal Rights Movement radical Jimmy Looks Twice.
Though he is mocked and ridiculed by the locals (being called a "Washington Redskin"), including tribal police officer Walter Crow Horse, Ray finds that he has an unaccountable standing with some of the tribal elders such as Grandpa Sam Reaches. The natives recognize Ray as "Thunderheart": a Native American hero slain at the Wounded Knee Massacre in the past, and now reincarnated to deliver them from their current troubles. While helping Cooch track down the suspect, Ray meets Maggie Eagle Bear, a Native American political activist and schoolteacher. After experiencing the harrowing conditions and violence from Milton's pro-government faction on the res, Ray gradually becomes sensitized to Indian issues.
Much to Cooch's anger, Ray comes to suspect a conspiracy and cover-up involving the reservation and Leo's murder. After being told to find 'the source', Ray and Crow Horse come across a government-sponsored plan to strip mine uranium on the reservation. The mining is polluting the water supply and fueling the bloody conflict between the reservation's anti-government ruling council and Milton's pro-government natives. While the land is not owned by Milton, he receives kickbacks from the leases; Ray and Crow Horse discover Maggie's body at the site.
Ray finds Leo's murderer, former convict Richard Yellow Hawk, who confesses Cooch's part in the scandal of having been sent to silence the opposition and help broker the land deal. Yellow Hawk is then murdered, but Ray recorded his confession, forcing a showdown between Cooch, Milton, and his pro-government collaborators, and Ray, Crow Horse, and the anti-government activists. Cooch is apprehended after being cornered and outnumbered by the armed resistance. Ray, disillusioned by the corruption, leaves the FBI.
The film was shot primarily on location in South Dakota.Specific sets included the Pine Ridge Reservation, which was dubbed the Bear Creek Reservation. Other filming locations used were in the Washington, D.C. area for the opening sequences. The film employed many Indian actors, some of whose screen roles mirror their real lives. The actor John Trudell, who played an Indian activist suspected of murder in the film inspired by the real-life events surrounding Leonard Peltier, is in fact an Indian activist, as well as a poet and singer. Chief Ted Thin Elk, who played an honored Lakota medicine man, is a Lakota elder himself. Badlands National Park and Wounded Knee in South Dakota were also used as backdrop locations for the real-life incidents which took place during the 1970s. Filming was done with the support of the Oglala Sioux people, who trusted Apted and Fusco to express their story.
The original motion picture soundtrack for Thunderheart was released by the Intrada Records music label on November 24, 1992.The score for the film was orchestrated by James Horner, while original songs written by musical artists Bruce Springsteen, Ali Olmo, and Sonny Lemaire, among others, were used in-between dialogue shots throughout the film. Jim Henrikson edited the film's music.
|Thunderheart: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack|
|Film score by|
|2.||"The Oglala Sioux"||2:38|
|10.||"My People/Wounded Knee"||4:30|
|12.||"Run for the Stronghold"||5:25|
|13.||"This Land is Not For Sale/End Titles"||8:24|
A paperback novel published by HarperCollins titled Thunderheart based on John Fusco's screenplay, was released on May 28, 1992. The book dramatizes the fictionalized events of the Wounded Knee Incident, as depicted in the film. It expands on the ideas of how an FBI agent's assignment to uncover the truth behind violence on an Indian reservation leads to a wide-range conspiracy.
Rotten Tomatoes reported that 89% of 18 sampled critics gave the film a positive review, with an average score of 6.47 out of 10.Following its cinematic release in 1992, Thunderheart received two nominations from the Political Film Society Awards in the categories of Exposé and Human Rights.
|"A film this intent on authenticity might easily grow dull, but this one doesn't; Mr. Apted is a skillful storyteller. He gives 'Thunderheart' a brisk, fact-filled exposition and a dramatic structure that builds to a strong finale, one that effectively drives the film's message home."|
|—Janet Maslin, writing in The New York Times|
Chris Hicks, of the Deseret News , said screenwriter Fusco and director Apted created a "rich backdrop, with fascinating character development and a serious focus on the spirituality of Indian beliefs." He commented that "there's a lot more going on in Thunderheart that makes it well worth the trip—not the least of which is the performance of co-star Graham Greene, fresh from his Oscar-nominated Dances With Wolves triumph, wonderful as a wise-cracking American Indian cop."In a mixed review, Variety believed the film found "a lively platform for its essential view that the old ways were far wiser and better." However, they noted that actor Kilmer "holds the screen strongly in an intense young Turk role, but when script calls for him to transform into a mythical Indian savior, he doesn't quite fill the moccasins." Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times offered a positive review recalling how he thought "what's most absorbing about Thunderheart is its sense of place and time. Apted makes documentaries as well as fiction films, and in such features as Coal Miner's Daughter and Gorillas in the Mist and such documentaries as 35 Up he pays great attention to the people themselves - not just what they do, and how that pushes things along."
Janet Maslin of The New York Times said the film had "the shape of a thriller" and a "documentary's attentiveness to detail". She also said that the "film's outstanding performance comes from Graham Greene, an Oscar nominee for Dances with Wolves, a film that looks like an utter confection beside this plainer, harder-hitting drama.... Mr. Greene proves himself a naturally magnetic actor who deserves to be seen in other, more varied roles."Critic Kathleen Maher for The Austin Chronicle viewed Thunderheart as an "element of misty romanticism about Native Americans that Apted just doesn't manage to pull off. His yarn, however, is a good one even if it could be told a little better." However, she added that "Apted manages to say a lot by cutting between the squalor of life on the reservation to the magnificence of the land around it. Unfortunately, when the characters speak for themselves, they are often forced to deliver lines that are unspeakable." Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a C rating calling it "hokey" and "laborious". He viewed the film as a "leftover 1970s conspiracy thriller were it not for the novelty of its setting: a modern Indian reservation—which, as the movie reveals, is by now a fancy word for slum." He did however compliment actor Greene, calling his performance—the film's "one redeeming feature". Author C.M. of Time Out said that "Apted and cinematographer Roger Deakins focus unblinkingly on the poverty endemic to the reservation. This directness, however, contrasts with an over-complicated script by John Fusco." But he acknowledged that "the story boasts integrity and serves as a forceful indictment of on-going injustice."
|"In Thunderheart we get a real visual sense of the reservation, of the beauty of the rolling prairie and the way it is interrupted by deep gorges, but also of the omnipresent rusting automobiles and the subsistence level of some of the housing."|
|—Roger Ebert, writing for the Chicago Sun-Times|
Sean Axmaker of Turner Classic Movies boasted on the film's merits by declaring, "Thunderheart dispenses with clichés of Indian culture while respectfully showing the traditions kept alive on the reservation and exposing conditions on the reservation, all within the conventions of an entertaining and involving Hollywood murder mystery with a message."Rating 3 Stars, Leonard Maltin wrote that the film was an "engrossing thriller" that is "notable for its keen attention to detail regarding Sioux customs and spirituality, and its enlightened point of view."
The film premiered in cinemas on April 3, 1992 in wide release throughout the U.S.. During its opening weekend, the film opened in 5th place grossing $4,507,425 in business showing at 1,035 locations.The film, White Men Can't Jump came in first place during that weekend grossing $10,188,583. The film's revenue dropped by 26% in its second week of release, earning $3,324,500. For that particular weekend, the film fell to 8th place screening in 1,090 theaters. The film Sleepwalkers , unseated White Men Can't Jump to open in first place grossing $10,017,354 in box office revenue. During its final weekend in release, Thunderheart opened in a distant 14th place with $1,111,110 in revenue. The film went on to top out domestically at $22,660,758 in total ticket sales through a six-week theatrical run. For 1992 as a whole, the film would cumulatively rank at a box office performance position of 55.
Following its theatrical release, the film was released on VHS video format on July 8, 1994.The Region 1 Code widescreen edition of the film was released on DVD in the United States on September 29, 1998. Special features for the DVD include; scene selections and the theatrical trailer. Currently, there is no scheduled release date set for a future Blu-ray Disc version of the film, although it is available in other media formats such as video on demand.
Leonard Peltier is an American activist and convicted felon. An activist for Native American civil rights and an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa, he joined the American Indian Movement in 1972. Since 1977, he has been imprisoned for the murder in 1975 of two FBI agents at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation; as of 2020, Peltier is one of the longest-serving political prisoners in the world, having spent 43 years in prison. In 2020 he began a campaign as vice-presidential candidate with activist Gloria La Riva running as president, on a joint ticket of two independent parties. He withdrew because of health issues related to his incarceration. His people include Lakota and Dakota ancestors.
Graham Greene, CM is a First Nations Canadian actor who has worked on stage, in film, and in TV productions in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Dances with Wolves (1990). Other notable films include Thunderheart (1992), Maverick (1994), Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995), The Green Mile (1999), Skins (2002), Transamerica (2005), Casino Jack (2010), Winter's Tale (2014), The Shack (2017) and Wind River (2017).
The Wounded Knee Massacre, also known as the Battle of Wounded Knee, was a domestic massacre of nearly three hundred Lakota people, by soldiers of the United States Army. It occurred on December 29, 1890, near Wounded Knee Creek on the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the U.S. state of South Dakota, following a botched attempt to disarm the Lakota camp. The previous day, a detachment of the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment commanded by Major Samuel M. Whitside intercepted Spotted Elk's band of Miniconjou Lakota and 38 Hunkpapa Lakota near Porcupine Butte and escorted them 5 miles (8.0 km) westward to Wounded Knee Creek, where they made camp. The remainder of the 7th Cavalry Regiment, led by Colonel James W. Forsyth, arrived and surrounded the encampment. The regiment was supported by a battery of four Hotchkiss mountain guns.
The American Indian Movement (AIM) is a Native American grassroots movement that was founded in July 1968 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A.I.M. was initially formed in urban areas to address systemic issues of poverty and police brutality against Native Americans. A.I.M. soon widened its focus from urban issues to include many Indigenous Tribal issues that Native American groups have faced due to settler colonialism of the Americas, such as treaty rights, high rates of unemployment, education, cultural continuity, and preservation of Indigenous cultures. The formation of A.I.M. propagated as a result of the United States' Public Law 959 Indian Relocation Act of 1956, alongside Public Law 280, otherwise known as the Indian Termination Act. These policies were enacted by the United States Congress under congressional plenary power. As a result, almost seventy-percent of American Indians relocated to urban centers and left their communal homelands with hopes of economic sustainability. This led to what is known as the Urban Indian. Many urban Indians became transnationals and were then able to form native hubs of belonging in urban centers, leading up to the formation of A.I.M. in these urbanized contexts.
John Trudell was a Native American author, poet, actor, musician, and political activist. He was the spokesperson for the United Indians of All Tribes' takeover of Alcatraz beginning in 1969, broadcasting as Radio Free Alcatraz. During most of the 1970s, he served as the chairman of the American Indian Movement, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, also called Pine Ridge Agency, is an Oglala Lakota Indian reservation located in the U.S. state of South Dakota. Originally included within the territory of the Great Sioux Reservation, Pine Ridge was created by the Act of March 2, 1889, 25 Stat. 888. in the southwest corner of South Dakota on the Nebraska border. Today it consists of 3,468.85 sq mi (8,984.3 km2) of land area and is one of the largest reservations in the United States, larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined.
Hidalgo is a 2004 epic biographical western film based on the legend of the American distance rider Frank Hopkins and his mustang Hidalgo. It recounts Hopkins' racing his horse in Arabia in 1891 against Bedouins riding pure-blooded Arabian horses. The movie was written by John Fusco and directed by Joe Johnston. It stars Viggo Mortensen, Zuleikha Robinson, and Omar Sharif.
Dennis Banks was a Native American activist, teacher, and author. He was a longtime leader of the American Indian Movement, which he co-founded in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1968 to represent urban Indians.
Annie Mae Aquash was a First Nations activist and Mi'kmaq tribal member from Nova Scotia, Canada. Aquash moved to Boston in the 1960s and joined other First Nations and Indigenous Americans focused on education and resistance, and police brutality against urban Indigenous peoples. She was part of the American Indian Movement, participated in several occupations, and participated in the 1973 Wounded Knee incident at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, United States.
Mary Brave Bird, also known as Mary Brave Woman Olguin, Mary Crow Dog was a Sicangu Lakota writer and activist who was a member of the American Indian Movement during the 1970s and participated in some of their most publicized events, including the Wounded Knee Incident when she was 18 years old.
Frank Fools Crow was an Oglala Lakota civic and religious leader. 'Grandfather', or 'Grandpa Frank' as he was often called, was a nephew of Black Elk who worked to preserve Lakota traditions, including the Sun Dance and yuwipi ceremonies. He supported Lakota sovereignty and treaty rights, and was a leader of the traditional faction during the armed standoff at Wounded Knee in 1973. With writer Thomas E. Mails, he produced two books about his life and work, Fools Crow in 1979, and Fools Crow: Wisdom and Power in 1990.
The Wounded Knee Occupation began on February 27, 1973, when approximately 200 Oglala Lakota and followers of the American Indian Movement (AIM) seized and occupied the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Paul Manhart S.J. and ten other residents of the area were apprehended at gunpoint and taken hostage. The protest followed the failure of an effort of the Oglala Sioux Civil Rights Organization (OSCRO) to impeach tribal president Richard Wilson, whom they accused of corruption and abuse of opponents. Additionally, protesters criticized the United States government's failure to fulfill treaties with Native American people and demanded the reopening of treaty negotiations to hopefully arrive at fair and equitable treatment of Native Americans.
Incident at Oglala is a 1992 documentary by Michael Apted, narrated by Robert Redford. The film documents the deaths of two Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, Jack R. Coler and Ronald A. Williams, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the summer of 1975.
Skins is a 2002 American feature film by Chris Eyre and based upon the novel of the same name by Adrian C. Louis. The film is set on the fictional Beaver Creek Indian Reservation in South Dakota near the Nebraska border, a place very much like the actual Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, the setting in the book and the place where the film was actually shot. Lakota Sioux tribal police officer Rudy Yellow Lodge struggles to rescue his older, alcoholic brother, Mogie, a former football star who was wounded in combat three times in Vietnam. Winona LaDuke makes a cameo appearance as Rose Two Buffalo.
Robert Eugene Robideau was an American Indian activist who was acquitted in the 1975 shooting deaths of two FBI agents in South Dakota.
Leonard Crow Dog is a medicine man and spiritual leader who became well known during the Lakota takeover of the town of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in 1973, known as the Wounded Knee Incident. Through his writings and teachings, he has sought to unify Indian people of all nations. As a practitioner of traditional herbal medicine and a leader of Sun Dance ceremonies, Crow Dog is also dedicated to keeping Lakota traditions alive.
Perry Ray Robinson, was an American civil rights activist from Alabama during the Civil Rights Movement. He had been active in Mississippi and Washington, DC supporting the March on Washington and the Poor People's Campaign. He disappeared while participating in the 1973 American Indian Movement resistance in the Wounded Knee incident on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
Frank Blackhorse is one of several aliases used by a member of the American Indian Movement. He is perhaps best known for his participation in the Wounded Knee incident, particularly his role in the shootout that left two FBI and one American Indian dead and for becoming a fugitive on the run who fled to Canada shortly after.
Darlene Nichols, also known by the names Kamook, Ka-Mook, Kamook Nichols and Ka-Mook Nichols, is the name of a former AIM member and Native American protester. She is best known for her role in the American Indian Movement for organizing The Longest Walk, and for serving as a key material witness in the trials of Arlo Looking Cloud, Richard Marshall, and John Graham that ultimately led to the conviction of two AIM members in the murders of Anna Mae Aquash.
Wind River is a 2017 neo-Western murder mystery film written and directed by Taylor Sheridan. The film stars Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen as a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tracker and an FBI agent, respectively, who try to solve a murder on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. Gil Birmingham, Jon Bernthal and Graham Greene also star.
Claypoole, Antoinette Nora. (2013). Ghost Rider Roads:Inside the American Indian Movement Wild Embers Press ASIN 1475048580