Thunderbolt and Lightfoot

Poster
1974
Michael Cimino

7/10 (unfocused, uneven, poorly developed)

This is just a weird movie, and I still don’t know what to make of it. It starts out as an unlikely but compelling buddy film, turns into a stupid heist-flick, and by the last five minutes becomes altogether different and more interesting, even moving. The dramatic ending makes this a special film, and it’s the only reason I’m wasting time on a review.

This was director Michael Cimino’s first film, and he made it before the massively successful “The Deer Hunter.” I happen to think that “Deer Hunter” was also massively overrated, so it’s no surprise that I was ambivalent toward this movie as well.

The story follows Thunderbolt (Clint Eastwood) posing as a minister and fleeing an assassin when he runs into the happy-go-lucky smalltime crook Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges). Only about halfway through the film do we learn that Thunderbolt is fleeing from his former bankrobber buddies as they mistakenly try to kill him for a doublecross that he never did. Meantime, he knows where the money from their last heist is hidden and is heading there with Lightfoot. They meet up, can’t find the money, and Lightfoot convinces them all to do the same heist over again. The last half of the film focuses on the heist and getaway.

If you look at the poster, the tagline says, “He has exactly seven minutes to get rich quick!” This, along with the ridiculous Eastwood pose over a cannon, so completely misrepresents the film as to cause some strange Kafkaesque existential crisis in (s)he who considers the absurdity. It would have you think that the entire movie revolves around the heist, which is far from the truth.

Aside from the poor marketing (which nonetheless might be indicative of the lack of focus shown by Cimino in the screenplay), the film (i.e. Cimino) fails at executing every genre in the jumble that it presents. The buddy aspect, though bolstered by the chemistry between Eastwood and Bridges (and Bridges’ fantastic performance, for which he was nominated for an “Academy” Award), is a victim of spectacular underdevelopment. When after five minutes of screentime Lightfoot expresses sadness that Thunderbolt doesn’t want to continue hanging out (“Look, I like you. . . I thought we could be friends!”), the viewer is thinking “Huh? When did that happen?” Then when Thunderbolt, after a few days of knowing this young punk, inexplicably decides to tell him about the heist they pulled (including the exact location of the hidden loot), you realize that the film’s not even trying to make sense.

Then Cimino shifts into bank heist mode, where Thunderbolt not only miraculously reconciles with his two former partners that have been trying to kill him all this time, but then they all decide on a whim to try the same heist over again, instigated by Lightfoot. This involves them getting jobs for who-knows-how-long (it’s never specified but assumed to be at least weeks or months) in order to raise money to purchase the cannon necessary for the job. Here the movie veers into comedy territory as one of the bankrobbers is working as an ice cream vendor, another as a janitor, and Lightfoot as a construction worker. The entire group appears so clownish that you can’t believe they’re actually serious about pulling this off.

Then comes the heist, and Cimino makes another shift into drama/suspense mode. TB and LF are betrayed by perhaps the most underdeveloped character in the movie (George Kennedy), and then they stumble onto the original loot. I won’t give away the last five minutes except to say that Bridges turns in an amazing, haunting performance. It’s a shame that Cimino didn’t adequately develop their friendship because it probably could have been at least twice as touching as it actually was.

In conclusion, this is not really a good film. It scores so high for being strange, but mostly for Jeff Bridges and a good young performance by Eastwood. You should see this for a haunting ending and for Bridges, proving in his youth that the Oscar he won for “Crazy Heart” wasn’t a fluke.

7 June 2010

Other Reviews for “Thunderbolt”

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