Sunday, 9 May 2010

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974)

At first glance, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is a simple heist movie with car chases, action sequences and male bonding galore. But scratch beneath the surface of the tetosterone fuelled wisecracks and gunplay and you'll find a sensitive road movie about desperate characters coming to terms with age, loss and their own mortality.

Set against the golden, sun drenched highways of the midwest, the story develops from a chance encounter on the road between Eastwood's phoney preacher fleeing from a mid sermon shoot-out and Bridges' car stealing, hedonistic drifter fresh from lifting a 73 Trans Am. On the run and with nothing to loose, the pair pitch in with each other, stealing cars, picking up girls and wearing some stylish wide collared mid 70s shirts. However hot on Eastwood's trail is very very bad guy "Red" Leary (menacingly played by George Kennedy), and his not so bad henchman Goody who are keen to recover stolen money from a previous bank heist that Eastwood helmed years before. After a hectic car chase and violent confrontation, the four flawed characters join forces uneasily to rob the same bank again...

Into this simple narrative, first time director Michael Cimino weaves classic Western themes of male bonding and friendship (which at times seem a little too friendly!), keeping up with changing times and the attempt to realise the American Dream. However the movie never gets bogged down in introspection - the pace never lets up, the dialogue is snappy and very funny and the set pieces are supremely handled. Cimino went onto big things from this - The Deer Hunter a few years later sealed his name in American film history, just as Heaven's Gate (somewhat unfairly) almost erased it. Eastwood, as we all know, is now a cinematic legend both behind and in front of the camera and this was possibly the movie that showed a slightly softer side to his screen persona than was evident in Dirty Harry and The Dollars Trilogy. But the film is as much Bridges' as anyone's and he often steals the show as the reckless good-time chasing Lightfoot, none more so when having to dress up in drag as a decoy for the robbery.

A word too about the theme tune - Paul Williams' classic peice of americana songwriting "Where do we go from here" suits the movie's mood perfectly. It was also covered by the king of rock and roll himself, Mr Elvis Presley... but it's in the film's somewhat melancholy final moments that the music comes to the fore, as Eastwood pulls on his sunglasses, snaps his cigar into the ashtray and drives off down the desolate highway.

Watch Eastwood and Bridges take a ride with a psychotic, bunny shooting redneck here...