Thunderheat Directed by Michael Apted
Thunderheat is an entertaining film based on events that took place in Oglala Sioux Reservation in the 1970’s. Directed by Michael Apted, the film is a spiritual thriller with some shooting scenes, which are intertwined with American Indian beliefs and religious customs. The antagonist in the movie is Val Kilmer, a Sioux, who is sent from Washington to investigate a crime in Oglala. Although he is partly Sioux, the FBI operative Rat Levoi (Val Kilmer) is so culturally assimilated that he does not acknowledge his heritage. In fact, he resents been given the job mainly due to his background. He even contemptuously refers to fellow American Indians as “Tonto” and “Geronimo.”
Once Ray understands the complex society of the Indian culture, especially about the violence in the region, he no-longer finds himself superior to other Sioux people. The primary cause of Ray’s disdain for his tribal background is because adoptive parents raised him. Consequently, he was unaware of the environment that Native American lived in and their culture before his visit as an investigator. People on the Oglala Sioux Reservation live in a very insecure environment. For example, their security is provided by a local militia, Guardians of the Oglala Nation, who are always fighting the Aboriginal Rights Movement (ARM). Interaction with American Indians enables Ray to learn that he shares a lot with them. In particular, he discovers that the presence of the militia in the community is mainly to provide security to the community. Furthermore, these groups offer the American Indians with a sense of identity. Consequently, the realization that Native Americans are peaceful and caring individuals makes him have some cultural awareness of his people. Furthermore, Ray is, in fact, a Native American who has simply being assimilated. Therefore, he has no difference from the local Sioux community.
His boss, Frank Coutelle (Sam Shepard) does not like Native Americans. Interestingly, he also does not like Ray because of his looks, which he believes makes the latter to resemble Sal Mineo. This scene illustrates the high levels of racial profiling in the United States, even in professional careers. Further, the movie shows the discrimination in the United States at the time of its casting. For example, the Native Americans are portrayed as being primitive, aggressive, uncultured, and unknowledgeable. These are biased opinions on people who have only decided to safeguard their traditions. Apparently, the Native Americans can see the social changes happening around them; however, they just do not want to accept modern cultures that contradict their traditions. Additionally, the government is shown not to understand the North American cultures. In fact, the government’s decision to use Ray in the investigation indicates that it does not have a robust administrative program the Oglala Sioux Reservation.
Jusco Fusco (Chief Ted Thin Elk) plays an essential role as a Grandpa in this film. In this position, Jusco shows the social setup of the American Indian communities. In particular, he acts as a spiritual and administrative leader. In this post, he guides the Sioux society and affects their beliefs and decisions. An understanding of the American Indian cultures enables Levoi and his audience to appreciate ancient traditions and customs, which, in turn, help them establish their efficacy in stopping crimes. Furthermore, it makes them know the social-cultural relationships of Native Americans such as by assisting the latter to understand their chain of command in the community and the role of religion to the Sioux people.
Politics and political corruption play a significant role in the film. In the Thunderheat movie, a local militia, Guardians of the Oglala Nation are always fighting the Aboriginal Rights Movement (ARM) groups. Usually, these associations are formed to remedy the effect of corruption in the society (Pramaggiore and Wallis 87). These include factors such as a scarcity of resources due to misappropriation of public funds and blatant cases of fraud. In fact, the infighting between the two militia groups is mainly due to a shortage of essential resources in the community. Further, the lack of a stable government presence in the region aggravates this scenario.
Further, politics plays a significant role in shaping the lives of the Sioux community. In fact, even the primary suspect of the homicide crime, Jimmy Looks Twice, is a politician. Therefore, the militia groups not only help some members of the community to protect their interests by they are also used to settle political scores. By and large, the government’s decision to send Roy into the area based on his ethnic background and not because of his competence as an investigator shows that it was also playing politics. Apparently, if it was more interested in solving the case than in dealing with the political tension in the region, its selection criteria of the investigator would have emphasized on his/her competence and not his/her tribe.
Overall, Michael Apted film Thunderheat is interesting to watch. The director creates fascinating character developments and rich detail of the Native Americans spiritual beliefs. As a result, the movie has a lot of depth on the lives of these people. Importantly, the film shows the dire poverty that many Native Americans live in, which creates an excellent platform for them to advocate for equal opportunities as the rest of the citizens.
Michael Apted, director. Thunderheat. Waterhorse Production, 1992.
Pramaggiore, Maria, and Tom Wallis. Film: A Critical Introduction. 3rd ed., Pearson, 2011.