William Devane plays Major Charles Rane, a Vietnam veteran, in this dark thriller that mixes a tale of revenge with a look at how those accustomed to wartime conditions adjust to civilian life. He has just returned home, along with a few other men, after time spent in a POW camp. His wife (Lisa Blake Richards) is as confused as she is relieved, as he was thought dead for some time, his young son (Jordan Gerler) doesn't really recognise him, and a local policeman (Lawrason Driscoll) seems to have been filling in the space that was left vacant during his time away. While he's processing the whole situation, some bad shit goes down. It leaves the Major in a bad way, but it also gives him a new mission to embark on, something that seems to put a fire back in his belly.
Directed by John Flynn, this is a movie that sits in an area right between revenge thriller and full-on exploitation film. That's no surprise, considering that the story came from Paul Schrader (who wasn't happy with changes made to the material). He and Heywood Gould co-wrote the screenplay, which is as dark and angry as you'd expect. Yet, for all the pain and darkness on display, much of the movie focuses on the readjustment that many must struggle with after various experiences in wartime. The revenge aspect of the movie may be nicely interwoven throughout the majority of the movie, but it's also almost secondary for many scenes, with viewers being given the time and opportunity to think more about what is going through the mind of Major Rane than just how satisfying revenge could be.
Devane is fantastic in the lead role. I've always been a fan of the man, and this is one of his finest lead performances. A relatively young Tommy Lee Jones also does a great job, portraying a fellow soldier equally lost when dropped back into civilian life. Richards, Gerler and Driscoll all do decent work, but it's Luke Askew and James Best who make the best impression by exemplifying the worst in human nature. They, and a few others helping them out, provide Devane with a goal to reach. Linda Haynes brightens up the screen, playing a young girl who has a crush on the Major, and who ends up helping him in his quest.
Rolling Thunder remains a very interesting movie because of the way it manages to take the darker material, and themes explored, and still package everything in a pretty slick piece of satisfying entertainment. It's not the easiest viewing experience that you will have, but it's certainly put together in a way that allows it to reach a wider audience. It's an unrelentingly grim film that doesn't feel unrelentingly grim, which is quite an achievement. Personally, I feel that a lot of that end result is thanks to the winning performance from Devane. Others may disagree, and that's absolutely fine. I will simply stalk them and glower at every opportunity.
The Region B disc is, as far as I can tell, the best option - http://www.amazon.co.uk/Rolling-Thunder-Double-Play-Blu-ray/dp/B004OQJS5O/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1405101898&sr=1-1&keywords=rolling+thunder