While shooting the documentary Incident at Oglala director Michael Apted (Coal Miner’s Daughter, 28 Up) was given the script for a fiction film (Thunderheart) based on similar subject matter, Native Americans in trouble. And watched together the two videos enrich each other. Conflating real events on South Dakota Indian reservations in the ’70s, Thunderheart tracks an FBI murder investigation through the eyes of a stiff G-man (Val Kilmer) who’s none too proud to be part Sioux. His eventual spiritual awakening at times plays like a bad episode of Northern Exposure, as he comes to reject the coarse cynicism of his partner (Sam Shepard) and sympathize with a local sheriff (Graham Greene). The movie boasts a number of shoot-outs and a car chase leading to the final showdown, but it’s more than just an updated cowboys-and-Indians picture, due in no small part to Apted’s grasp of the situation’s complexity.
A more journalistic, though still dramatic, take on the turmoil in the Badlands, Incident at Oglala reconstructs a 1975 gunfight that left two FBI agents dead and makes a strong case that the wrong man may be serving time for their murders. Incident: B+ Thunderheart: B