When The Music Box Theater advertised Rolling Thunder as one of their Midnight Movies, I took little notice at first. They said it was an exploitation flick. Okay… so those have been making a seemingly steady comeback into the mainstream since Rodriguez/Tarantino’s 2007 semi-flop Grindhouse (Note: The movie financially was a flop, not the quality. I own both movies). They also said it was ‘one of Tarantino’s favorites’, which, let’s be honest, doesn’t mean too much. The man is a ‘Child of Cinema’, he likes basically everything. They also said it was a revenge movie about a guy with a hook for a hand. And they also said it wasn’t available on DVD.
So it seemed that instead of asking “Why should I go see Rolling Thunder?” I was instead asking “How can I not?” One of these elements alone doesn’t warrant a viewing, but all of them together make it hard not to at least check it out.
The Story: Charles Rane (William Devane) comes back from being held as a POW in Vietnam and finds himself oddly out of place, as his son doesn’t remember him and his wife is reluctant to his return. Pretty soon bad things happen to him and he wants payback! He picks up a hot local honey and drives on down to Mexico to get it! Also, Tommy Lee Jones is a badass.
Its hard to advertise this as an ‘exploitation’ movie. On the one hand, it is an engaging examination of how War Vets must feel upon coming back home to their average and mundane lives after being pushed to their limits just to survive a single day in the jungle/POW Camp. On the other hand… is a hook and a blood-thirsty quest for vengeance!
Upon seeing ‘Writer – Paul Schrader’ in the credits I immediately became entranced and engrossed. You mean this is by the genius who did Taxi Driver? Well let me pay attention super close the first time because it took me about 3 viewings of Taxi to even begin to understand its genius. Needless to say the idea of loneliness and violence are brought out again, but for different purposes. This time its more fun, while still retaining its serious, dark, underlying edge.
Director John Flynn sets the tone beautifully and never really veers into full blown thrill ride mode until the very end. He shows us these dark, disturbed characters in their once happy, normal settings and immediately sets up the tone that they are out of place. Without going into overly long flashbacks, we get a glimpse of POW Camp torture and how after seven years of this, even we know small talk between them and their family must be absolutely brutal.
Devane’s performance is sharp. Before the big inciting event, he plays a character who knows the rules and is willing to play by them. After, he lets loose and given a ‘socially acceptable’ chance to kill people, for revenge, he bides his time and waits for his opportunity to strike, like an injured tiger waiting in the shadows until he is able to run again. The moments we feel most at home with this character are when he’s killing a man, not talking to him.
Linda Haynes plays the blonde waitress Linda, who is looking for a man to take care of her, and vice versa. She sees Charles as a wounded animal that she can nurture back to health (unfortunately for her that animal does happen to be the tiger). Sometimes her role gets a little in the way of the action, but she does have her moments to shine.
Speaking of shinning: Tommy Lee Jones. Holy cow. From the moment he steps off the plane in the opening credits and sees the absurdity waiting for him to the violent conclusion, he absolutely is the scene stealer of the movie. Without spoiling anything… he may have one of the funniest deliveries of a line I have ever seen on film. And its only because it fits his character so well and he absolutely nails the delivery. His character is like a more extreme version of Major Rane; even more distant in his normal life and even more cheerfully happy to be part of ‘the action’.
(Note: Watch only up to the 1:30 mark! After is a spoiler for Tommy Lee Jones and one of the funniest parts of the movie. You need the full thing to fully appreciate its awesomeness!)
Why You Must See It At Midnight: Seeing this kind of movie late at night helps add to the punch. At first the movie lulls you in with a brilliant look at how some people just aren’t cut out to live a normal life in the real world. Then, when the jabs of violence come in, they hit harder. That is until you are completely shocked by its pure testosterone badass-ness that is the final action scene. You’ll feel awake and alive for the next couple of hours, ready to take on anything or anyone. Trust me, after seeing this movie, you will want to add ‘macho mother f***er’ to your regular vocabulary.