Monday, April 5, 2010


This past Easter weekend I had a chance to watch several movies but unfortunately wasn't able to get onto the computer much at all. For the next few days I'll be trying to catch up on movie and book reviews. On Friday I went to see Hot Tub Time Machine and later that evening my wife wanted to watch a movie so I broke out the 1992 classic Thunderheart. She had never seen it before so I explained a bit of what it was about and let her have at it.

Basically, an FBI agent (played by Val Kilmer) who is half Sioux Indian is sent to a fictional reservation for public relations motives where a possibly political murder has taken place. The agent already in place believes he has the case all but solved and all that needs to be done is to find and arrest the murderer. During these events Kilmer's character starts to uncover all sorts of problems and misdeeds seemingly done by the pro-government council with the aid of the FBI. Along with a tribal policeman (played by Graham Greene) Kilmer tries to get to the source of the murders (there are more committed) and goes to a medicine man who foresaw him coming. Kilmer starts to understand the bigger picture and get in touch with his roots and bring down the house of cards built by the FBI and the tribal council. Other notable actors in the cast are Sheila Tousey, Fred Ward, Fred Dalton Thompson, Sam Shepard, Fred Ward and John Trudell.

The movie is loosely based upon events that happened in the 70s on American Indian Reservations between pro-government "progressive" and "traditional" Indians. The traditionals were aided by the militant American Indian Movement (AIM). There were many murders committed without ever being investigated properly or not at all by the FBI. That is until 2 FBI agents were killed in a gunfight on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. I had no knowledge of these events and had indeed never read about them in any history book or learned of them in a history class. Something about this preview made me want to go see the movie and I did so on it's opening weekend. After the movie was over (which I enjoyed immensely I might add) someone yelled out "Free Leonard Peltier!" as the credits started to roll. At first I was annoyed by someone disturbing my movie experience. Then I went back to the barracks (I was in the Army stationed in Washington D.C.) and over the weekend I saw something about Leonard Peltier and AIM on PBS.

From there I started learning what I could of the events on the Pine Ridge Reservation and what I believe was the false imprisonment of Peltier. He is still in prison to this day even though the government never proved his guilt as they said they would. The government needed to have someone pay for the deaths of the agents and since two others had been acquitted of the crimes they stacked the deck against Peltier in order to get him convicted.

Perhaps one day soon I'll go into more detail on what happened in this very flawed case. For now though, I have to get ready for work so all I can advise is to watch Thunderheart and to keep an open mind. That and learn more about Leonard Peltier and make up your own mind, just be careful where you go to learn about him.


Ben Carnes said...

Thunderheart as a fictional film took actual events and made composites. There is another film I would consider as a companion to Thunderheart is "Incident at Oglala", which was done by Robert Redford. You can view this film at
or rent it. For more info, there is

Currently, there is a new project on Peltier and to see a trailer from the film, go to

As a former spokesperson for Leonard Peltier, I encourage everyone to look at the facts of the case. There are those who claim the facts aren't true, but legal scholars and many organizations have loked into this case. He has been nominated for the Nobel prize 6 times, and has been declared a political prisoner by Amnesty International. So take the time into looking at why he has been imprisoned for over 35 years and make up your own mind, don't take my word for it.

Thanks for posting this Don.

Don said...

Ben, Thanks so much for commenting. After originally seeing Thunderheart I did seek out and rent Incident At Oglala (I own a copy now). I've looked at this case and I firmly believe he was extradicted illegally from Canada and was not given a fair, impartial trial. I could go on forever about what was wrong with the trial but as you say, if people will look at this case impatially and make up their own minds they can see what a travesty of the judicial system Leonard's conviction was and is.