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Awesome: 4%
Worth A Look60%
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Total Crap: 0%

3 reviews, 7 user ratings

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Rolling Thunder
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by Jay Seaver

"Oddly unavailable, considering who was involved."
4 stars

Given the people involved in "Rolling Thunder", along with its generally decent quality and good reputation, it's kind of surprising that this movie has yet to get a DVD release, at least in the US. It was produced by Lawrence Gordon, with a screenplay by Paul Schrader. William Devane has worked steadily, and people like Tommy Lee Jones. Quentin Tarantino named his short-lived distribution label after it. And yet, the only easy option for seeing it is streaming via Netflix.

(Unless you're lucky enough to have a local theater that books oddball films every once in a while. In which case, make sure they get your support.)

In 1973, a group of American prisoners of war returned home to Texas from Vietnam. Major Charles Rane (William Devane) has been gone for seven years. The town tries to make him feel welcome back, gifting him with a new car and a silver dollar for every day he spent in captivity. At first, things are simply uncomfortable; his son doesn't recognize him and his wife Janet (Lisa Blake Richards) has grown close to divorced sheriff Cliff (Lawrason Driscoll) in that time away. That's before a group of thugs come over, wanting the money. They put him in the hospital and others in the grave, but probably don't give the proper amount of thought to how tough and determined someone who's survived more than half a decade of torture might be.

For a small movie likely marketed more for action than emotion, Rolling Thunder feels remarkably genuine. The Rane household doesn't devolve into a bunch of screaming matches, and for all that people are hurt and uncomfortable, there's not much blame thrown around - Janet and Cliff are never portrayed as bad people. The vets we see broken and haunted but functional, even if there is something angry and violent looking for a way to lash out not far under the surface. A character like Linda Forchet (Linda Haynes), the self-described "groupie" who attaches herself to Rane, is built up as someone who has an existence beyond falling in love with him.

Having a strong core of actors in the lead helps. Devane anchors the movie as Rane; there are a lot of earnest dramas about soldiers returning home from war that don't feature a performance as good as Devane's. He's a soldier through and through, so he's always tightly controlled, but he does a fine job of showing just how close to madness Rane's experience has left him. Tommy Lee Jones has a similar, though smaller, part - his Johnny Vohden outwardly seems a little less angry, but toward the end, there's often a look on his face that says he is really enjoying the chance to do some violence. Linda Haynes is quite good here, convincing us that her character has a history of her own. The script tells us that she's getting a little old for the cycle her personal life is in, but Haynes convinces us that Linda Forchet knows it. It's too bad she didn't have a longer career, and perhaps can be attributed in part to Twentieth Century Fox offloading Rolling Thunder onto a smaller company; if this got a studio push rather than just playing in drive-ins and grindhouses, then maybe she gets cast in a higher class of movie and doesn't leave Hollywood relatively young.

For all it does well, the movie isn't perfect. Subplots have a peculiar tendency to dead-end, sometimes literally. Other times it just feels like director John Flynn and editor Frank Keller were just relentless about clipping what they felt was non-essential, right through the very quick jump to the end credits. It almost feels like Schrader had a more ambitious film in mind, even though it mostly got boiled down to a revenge thriller.

Which isn't so bad; it's a good revenge thriller, with tough but vulnerable heroes and nasty villains. There's plenty of blood for those who want it, including a couple of examples of why one should not engage in a close-quarters fight with a trained soldier who has a prosthetic hook for a hand (one of which should make the male members of the audience involuntarily wince). The last action set-piece is especially well-done, with the extra layer of grit and grime that comes from taking place in a Mexican brothel.

It's a real shame "Rolling Thunder" is so tough to find as of this writing. It's mostly a bit of violent pulp, sure, but it's very well made violent pulp that aspires to be more. A lot of B-movies have ambitions to rise above their station; this one actually manages it on occasion.

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originally posted: 10/16/08 02:27:29
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User Comments

4/06/16 FireWithFire Tarantino loves it - villains are White Southern rednecks.Quentin is a self-loathing RACIST 3 stars
3/26/14 jarod GREAT MOVIE---CLASSIC 5 stars
5/21/13 kevin lause Much better than I remembered it being. Interesting companion piece to the more familiar Vi 4 stars
5/23/11 Michael Frye Revenge, well played 4 stars
8/09/10 GEORGE B. FEIST You can watch it on on your PC I saw this at the movies when it came out 4 stars
10/18/08 Jack Sommersby Uneven and lumpy, but it's still affecting stuff with marvelous acting and dialogue. 3 stars
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  14-Oct-1977 (R)
  DVD: 28-Jan-2011



Directed by
  John Flynn

Written by
  Paul Schrader
  Heywood Gould

  William Devane
  Tommy Lee Jones
  Linda Haynes
  James Best
  Dabney Coleman

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