Thursday, 31 July 2014

Rolling Thunder (1977)

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 -


  1. I can't remember if we've had this conversation already, but what struck me the last time I watched this how pointedly the film despises its female characters. While cursory efforts are made to camouflage, the message is clear: Men are the only ones that can be counted on. Devane’s wife cheats on him while he was in the POW camp, Jones’ wife is an over-the-top clucker, and it doesn’t matter that Linda Haynes’ character has demonstrated herself to be reliable, ballsy, loyal, smart and capable of shooting a gun as well as any swinging dick, she still gets left behind at the hotel for the third act – with money on the dresser, no less – while Devane rounds up his (male) army pal to put the hurt on the bad guys.

    I still like the movie in spite of this (and that wretched San Antonio song), but it is an element that doesn't seem to get talked about. Just curious what your thoughts were.

    1. Right,, FINALLY replying. Sorry I kept forgetting to get back to this comment, sir.

      I know exactly what you mean, and the little bit of background research I did on the film made it clear that Schrader intended the lead to be an even more unpleasant character. However, I didn't actually notice it so much while viewing the film, just because I liked Haynes so much anyway (I was kinda glad that she didn't get caught up in what I thought was going to be a dark and violent third act). So that evened things out for me, but you're quite right in how badly the women are treated by the script.