Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rolling Thunder

  Rolling Thunder is for all intents and purposes, First Blood meets Walking Tall. But that doesn't mean once you've seen those, that you've seen it all. I suppose you could call this movie an exploitation flick considering the era it was made and how it coasts by most of its latter screentime on a catchy gimmick (the hook hand) and lots of action. But it has alot more brains and emotional power than you'd typically expect in your average exploitation flick.

  William Devane plays Major Charlie Rane. Him and his war buddy, John (Tommy Lee Jones), have just returned home from a tour of duty in Vietnam. They're welcomed publicly as heroes having survived being prisoners of war, but they quickly find that home life isn't what it used to be.  Charlie's wife, having presumed him dead, has moved on to another man. Charlie's son doesn't even remember him.  Theres not much left for Charlie. But when a group of ruthless thugs break into his house and torture him to try and find the $2,500 worth of silver dollars awarded to him by the town in the welcome back ceremony, they destroy his hand in the sink's garbage disposal, shoot him, kill his wife, and murder his son.
  Its pretty much a no-brainer what happens next. He recruits this town girl who's essentially, his groupie, to help him hunt down the sons-of-bitches that did this... and make them pay! Its pretty cool to watch how this all unfolds. Even despite how many times I've seen this exact formula play out, Rolling Thunder manages to feel fresh in a very welcome way. Its not set at a breakneck pace, but there are at least three really exciting set pieces places evenly throughout the film.  Each one eclipsing the last in intensity and dramatic flair.  Its a very bloody movie when it wants to be, but fortunately for us, the things we don't want to see... like his hand being chopped up in the disposal, or his wife and son being shot, aren't shown to us directly. Some may complain, but I think its rather tasteful. The graphic violence is only unleashed on those who have it coming. Namely, the bad guys.
  Which Leads me to my only real complaint about the movie. The bad guys aren't really developed at all. They're just thugs. Murdering thugs. I suppose the writer thought that greed was enough of a motivation, but nobody wants a murder rap on their hands. They showed no hesitation whatsoever to kill the wife and kid.
It didn't particularly strike me as cold blooded, but rather, lazy writing. Out of the quartet of thugs, not one protested. Right. Because $625 apiece is totally worth killing two almost three people over. To me that doesn't make sense even from a bad guy's viewpoint. There just isn't enough motivation to justify their extreme actions, and not even play it up. From an acting standpoint, they're all quite bland. The ringleader should've been played up, the others could've been fearful acomplices. We've seen it many times before. Hundreds of times before. It just struck me as odd they didn't do that here.

  But not even that hampers the enjoyment of this gritty revenge tale. Its merely about the principle of the thing. These guys killed his wife and kid. They're the bad guys. They must be killed.  That logic is hardly ever questioned in the movie. Not once is Charlie Rane's vigilante crusade actually challenged. There was a sub plot with this guy, Cliff, who's not only the other man in Rane's wife's life, but also happens to be a police officer. The tension between Cliff and Rane after the murders is quite downplayed from the go. There could've been some rich dramatic material there, but they almost sidestep that entirely, leaving Charlie to his vengeful business. Giving him the means, ability and know-how to unleash hell on these guys. Thats the ultimate drive of this movie. To unleash this force of nature and watch him destroy the bad guys.

  I can give this movie a solid reccomendation for anyone looking for an hour and a half of drama and vigilante justice. Not a bad flick at all. Quite enjoyable and definately servicable for what it set out to do.

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