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*UPDATED* 062911 Oh man I am slacking. In the time since I wrote the review, 'Rolling Thunder' has been released on DVD. It is not a great transfer and the DVD has no real extras but at least it is out in widescreen. However, as I just posted on the site there is more exciting news: in the UK 'Rolling Thunder' is coming out on Blu-ray! Here's hoping for a quality Blu-ray! If you can play UK Blu-rays (or for that matter USA DVDs) you can pre-order the UK 'Rolling Thunder' Blu-ray below or order the USA 'Rolling Thunder' DVD below.
The work = *****
Sadly, the director of ‘Rolling Thunder’, John Flynn, passed away this year making the lack of release of the film downright tragic. Written by Paul Schrader and Heywood Gould, ‘Rolling Thunder’ is a phenomenal revenge film that seethes towards its violent end. Filled with several great performances, probably most notably William Devane as Vietnam Veteran Charles Rane and a young Tommy Lee Jones as his Vet buddy Johnny Vohden. I also should at least mention Linda Haynes who is absolutely wonderful as Linda Forchet, a woman who forms a begrudging bond with Rane.
Early in ‘Rolling Thunder’ Rane and Vohden return home from the war. Vohden is uncomfortable and it is clear he is going to have difficulty with civilian life. Rane is calm, authoritative, and reassures Vohden that everything will be ok. As the film progresses, one of its strengths is how it quickly begins to reveal that Rane, while calm on the surface, is a rage of turmoil underneath. When he loses his control, bizarre and bad things happen. This emotional underpinning is part of what makes ‘Rolling Thunder’ as strong a film as it is. The depth that Devane and Jones are able to bring to their characters help give the film a lasting resonance.
The writing by Schrader and Gould (I have no idea how much each contributed to the script) is strong and Flynn directs the scenes with care. For instance, a scene involving cigarettes being put back in their box is clever, touching, and wickedly sly once you discover what is really being practiced. That sequence is one of the highlights of the film and would seem to be an example of the strong writing, directing, and acting all in unison. The violence almost uniformly has a punch of intensity to it as it builds and builds. Without giving anything away, I will say that things on the home front become more and more of a challenge for Rane. As his world drifts closer and closer towards violence, Rane begins to reveal just how scarred by the war he is. Everything from the cast and crew is uniformly strong with the notable exception of some flashback sequences depicting Rane’s torture that don’t look quite as effective or authentic as they should.
That is a minor quibble and there is much to like in the film (as long as you can stand the violence). Tommy Lee Jones in particular is mesmerizing as the tortured Vohden. He says little in the film but his performance opposite Devane is so good I am surprised he has not gotten more notice for it. Watch him throughout the film and then the way he changes at the end, right before all hell breaks loose. His demeanor is truly frightening and his performance, again, is one of the highlights of the film.
Look, I write these dopy reviews as a hobby because I love film. If you are a fan of 70s cinema, revenge flic’s, hell if you just get the chance to see it, give ‘Rolling Thunder’ a try. The film may have a cult following but it is an underrated feature without so much as a DVD release to its name. Here’s hoping there is one soon.For myself I was finally able to see a widescreen version of this film for the first time this year. I had inadvertently read about the film as a child because I used to get it mixed up with a series of videogames made under the same name. Years later, I would read about the film and keep hearing about it off and on. Finally I decided I wouldn’t see the film until I could see it in widescreen and that did not happen until this year. The film became a favorite of mine and occupies that space in my mind that many of Sam Peckinpah’s films do (although I should be clear this film does not seem like a Peckinpah film.) Until ‘Rolling Thunder’ gets the special edition release it deserves, give it your best to go see it however you can. Highly, highly, recommended.
‘'Rolling Thunder ’ Links:
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