Critics Consensus

No consensus yet.



Total Count: 17


Audience Score

User Ratings: 12,128
User image

Thunderheart Photos

Movie Info

Actor Robert De Niro started a production company to make films just like this one: stories which were unpopular with the establishment and which are unlikely to make a big splash at the box-office. Even so, this is a first-class production, and the filmmakers were the first to receive permission to film on the Pine Ridge (Sioux) Reservation in South Dakota, likely due to director Michael Apted's having previously made an accurate and sensitive documentary about Indian political prisoner Leonard Peltier's case, Incident at Oglala. The film did exactly as well as expected at the box-office but has since assumed greater importance as one of the tiny number of "mainstream" movies which faithfully and respectfully illuminate Native American issues. In the story, loosely based on the earlier documentary, Ray Levoi (Val Kilmer) is an ambitious up-and-coming FBI agent in the 1970s with great career prospects. The one thing he will not tolerate is any reference to his half-Indian heritage. As far as he is concerned, his loyalties and culture identify him with the government and his white mother. He is extremely touchy about anything to do with his father, who was an alcoholic full-blooded Sioux. However, the FBI wants to take advantage of his half-Indian blood to mend fences in a politically sensitive murder investigation, and it sends him exactly where he doesn't want to go. Further, he is widely advertised as being Indian, though he knows virtually nothing about his heritage and has renounced it to the best of his ability. Once on the reservation, he becomes deeply involved in a truly messy state of affairs and is drawn into situations where he is forced to confront his background, native spirituality, and the duplicity of the government and its allies within the tribe. Despite his consistent prickliness about his heritage, his heart is in the right place, and the reservation's sheriff (Graham Greene) and a wise spiritual elder (Chief Ted Thin Elk) patiently lead their unwilling FBI pupil on a soul-wrenching wild goose chase which paradoxically takes him straight to the heart of the matter.

Watch it now


Val Kilmer
as Ray Levoi
Sam Shepard
as Frank Coutelle
Graham Greene (II)
as Walter Crow Horse
Fred Ward
as Jack Milton
Fred Dalton Thompson
as William Dawes
Sheila Tousey
as Maggie Eagle Bear
Chief Ted Thin Elk
as Grandpa Sam Reaches
John Trudell
as Jimmy Looks Twice
Julius Drum
as Richard Yellow Hawk
Sarah Brave
as Maisy Blue Legs
Allan R.J. Joseph
as Leo Fast Elk
Patrick Massett
as Agent Mackey
Rex Linn
as FBI Agent
Severt Young Bear Sr.
as Lakota Singer
Dennis Banks
as Himself
Candy Hamilton
as School Teacher
Jerome Mack
as Maggie's Kid
Tom M. LeBeau
as Ray's Father
Bridgit P. Schock
as Ray's Mother
David Crosby
as Bartender
Jerry Allan Hietala
as Drunken Brawler
Gordon Patterson
as Helicopter Pilot
Robin J. Saderup
as Helicopter Pilot
Buddy Red Bow
as Man at Powwow
Sam Adams
as Lakota Singer
Robin Black Bird
as Lakota Singer
Floyd Charging Crow
as Lakota Singer
Elroy Cross
as Lakota Singer
George Patterson
as Helicopter Pilot
Charles Davis
as Lakota Singer
Ernest Red Elk
as Lakota Singer
Kenneth J. Richards
as Lakota Singer
Tim Owen Taggart
as Powwow Singer
View All

News & Interviews for Thunderheart

Critic Reviews for Thunderheart

All Critics (17) | Top Critics (3)

Audience Reviews for Thunderheart

  • Sep 02, 2012
    An FBI investigation of a murder mystery is made interesting by its unusual locale: a dusty and rundown Native American reservation in the Dakotas. Noirish qualities emerge when the murder, and the investigation, are shown to be cover-ups for something darker, but the "Indian" connection is what makes for entertainment here.
    Kevin M. W Super Reviewer
  • Jul 26, 2011
    An FBI agent investigates a murder on a Lakota reservation. <i>Thunderheart</I> is a textbook example of how a skilled filmmaker can use a familiar genre to attempt to make a political point. The mystery and the message are interwoven expertly. However, as much as the film attempts to show Native life as it was, and still is in many places, (people living in near squalor with high incidents of alcoholism and violence), the last shot summarizes the feel I got through other parts of the film. I'm not giving anything away when I say that in the final moment, we see a busy highway that is far removed from the Res. It is as though Natives are still unwelcome in modernity, separated radically from it, even though thoroughly modern lives either are or can be lived by the people we just met. The film's heart is in the right place, exposing the degradation to which many of these people are subjected, but there is still something of a "noble savage" feel to how the film treats Natives. Add to this the fact that Fred Ward plays in a character in "red face," as the saying goes, and we can see how Natives are still subjects to some degree. Also, I wondered about why Sam Shepard's character, Cooch, constantly sent Val Kilmer's character, Ray, to advance the investigation alone. It seemed unrealistic. The performances are all fine; though, I think Val Kilmer was too stoic. If we are to buy the fact that a grizzled FBI veteran so quickly recovers his Native roots, I think more work needs to be done by the actor to make this transition obvious. Overall, <i>Thunderheart</i> is a well-told story even with a few relatively minor flaws.
    Jim H Super Reviewer
  • Mar 17, 2011
    Val Kilmer plays a FBI rookie and half-breed Sioux Indian who is asked to assist in collaring a murder suspect on an Indian reservation. During the investigation Val finds himself coming to terms with his heritage; rejecting the tactics of his fellow agents, who want to cover up rather than solve the crime. Along the way, he meets a sarcastic but savvy, local lawman, Walter Crow Horse (Graham Greene) and a fiery, pacifistic activist in Maggie Eagle Bear (Sheila Tousey). Good portrait of the conflict that Val Kilmer's character is faced with and Chief Ted Thin Elk, the old wise man has an instant appeal to the viewer. Both Kilmer and Greene give wonderful performances backed up by the incomparable Sam Shepard.
    Deb S Super Reviewer
  • Mar 17, 2011
    This is a really good movie the only thing is that all the story's main feuds remain unresolved. I recommend it but it is annoying as hell having no resolve.
    Greg A Super Reviewer

Thunderheart Quotes

There are no approved quotes yet for this movie.

News & Features