Thunderheart (1992)

Genres - Mystery  |   Sub-Genres - Detective Film, Psychological Drama  |   Release Date - Apr 3, 1992 (USA)  |   Run Time - 118 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Val Kilmer delivers some of his subtlest work as an FBI agent who must overcome his self-loathing to solve a murder. Kilmer is the film's reluctant hero, Ray Levoi, whose one-quarter-Native American heritage makes him the prime candidate to investigate a homicide on a South Dakota reservation, a case extrapolated from the true story of activist Leonard Peltier, whom many believe was wrongfully jailed for the murders of two FBI agents in the 1970s. Most of Thunderheart plays like Raymond Chandler updated for the politically correct 1990s, long on topical, political mystery and short on romance. The actor does a good job of conveying Ray's deep-rooted denial: he's a prime representative of Reagan-era, button-down conservatism, and Kilmer and Apted loosen him up without resorting to obvious, pandering scenes of revelation. The movie has real tension but never presents Native Americans as a mysterious, enigmatic "other;" even when Apted calls attention to the squalid socio-economic conditions of the reservation, he never loses sight of the film's entertainment value. Apted released a companion documentary on the Peltier case, Incident at Oglala, that same year.