Dances with the Evidence could be the title of this pic about a young, part-Indian FBI hotdog whose loyalties are tested when he discovers the power of his roots during a murder probe on a Sioux reservation. Reasonably engrossing as a mystery-thriller despite its overburdened plot, Thunderheart succeeds most in its captivating portrayal of mystical Native American ways.
Val Kilmer stars as a sharp but surly and guarded young fed whose crewcut bristles when he learns he’s expected to use his long-suppressed Indian heritage to help quell violence on a South Dakota reservation. Partnered with a crack FBI vet (Sam Shepard), he travels ‘cross the lone prairie to the Res, where the two city sharpies excel at shockingly insensitive behavior.
Befriended by a wary but compassionate Sioux sheriff (Graham Greene, in a standout portrayal), he’s introduced to tribal spiritual elder (Chief Ted Thin Elk), who points him toward his true self.
Set among the tinderbox tensions of the late 1970s, when militant Indians waged bloody battles to take back their culture and lands, pic finds a lively platform for its essential view that the old ways were far wiser and better. 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.