The Movie Waffler BluRay Review - <i>Thunderbolt & Lightfoot</i> (1974) | The Movie Waffler

BluRay Review - Thunderbolt & Lightfoot (1974)

Michael Cimino's directorial debut hits BluRay from Second Sight Films.

Directed by: Michael Cimino
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Jeff Bridges, George Kennedy, Geoffrey Lewis, Catherine Bach

Michael Cimino’s scintillating debut takes a pristine bow onto BluRay, straddling whimsicality and hard edged fatalism, and marking a fecund period in Eastwood’s career that saw him using his box office clout to explore more morally complex characters. Clint is always an actor who is at his best exploring the darkness and ambiguity beneath his flawed heroes, rather than the one note seeker of justice that his most commercially successful roles would suggest.
Cimino had worked previously with Eastwood as a screenwriter on Dirty Harry sequel Magnum Force, but choosing him as a collaborator on his first feature must have been a daunting choice. It is one that pays dividends for them both; the direction is spry and elegant, and Eastwood gives a relaxed performance, allowing Jeff Bridges' amiable doofus Lightfoot to steal the individual scenes, whilst always being in control of the film's focus.
The film opens with Eastwood’s Thunderbolt, in the guise of a preacher, delivering a bastardised version of Isaiah 11:6 to his eager flock (“as the Wolf lays down with the Lamb, the Leopard shall lay down with the Kid”) before promptly making a getaway through the church window to evade a would-be assassin. It is the opening verse that is key to the film. Is Thunderbolt the Wolf of scripture laying with Bridges' Lamb destined to be slaughtered? Or is it straight society in general that is there to be picked off for those with the brains, brawn and fortitude to get what they want?
It is hard to find a director who has had a better one, two, three than Cimino, and an even bigger shame that the failure of Heaven’s Gate hobbled a career that promised so much. Of his subsequent films, only The Year of the Dragon could be classed as anything like a success (admittedly a very qualified one). Always a gifted actors' director, here we see a stylist with visual panache to burn, married with a comic timing that one would not expect from the director of the uber serious, almost to a fault, Deer Hunter and  the magnificently flawed Heaven’s Gate. T&L is very much a film of two halves; one a picaresque road movie, the other a heist flick. If the first half feels like a Hal Ashby movie, with its hippy sensibility and characters that may well have sprung from the works of the Coen Brothers (in particular the carbon monoxide huffing, trunk full of rabbits crazy essayed by Bill McKinney, taking time off from making Ned Beatty squeal like a pig), it is the second half where the meat of the story unfolds. Once bad ass Red Leary (Kennedy) arrives on the scene looking for his money and revenge, a sense of fatalism cloaks the film. It is this sense of the halcyon days of the first half going bad, like a country and western ballad about a love gone awry. Make no mistake, this is first and foremost a love story between Bridges and Eastwood; it may not be a homoerotic love story - more one of respect, admiration and growing affection - but when Bridges puts on a dress you are not entirely certain it’s not more for Thunderbolt's approval than part of the elaborate subterfuge to knock out the bank's alarm.
Add to the mix Eastwood stalwart Geoffrey Lewis as the fourth wheel in the heist, and a blink and you’ll miss it turn from a young Garey (sic) Busey as a garden landscaper, and you have what could be Eastwood’s best non-western film. It has flaws for sure; Cimino’s attitude to women is, how should we put it, embryonic at this point. They come in two types: chicks that want to sleep with Eastwood or Bridges, or feminist chicks that give you the finger. Cimino showed a more romantic streak in his later films, but they are all through the prism of a male gaze. That Lightfoot in drag is the most fully realised female character in the film is something of a problem.
One can forgive a film a few faults and tarnishes if it has been made with love. This is a film that's elegiac, wonderfully wry, and melancholic; by turns comedic and tragic. Eastwood has always been a more complex figure than his Republican leanings and fascistic cop Harry Callahan would have you otherwise believe. Bridges is one of those actors who doesn’t always get his just rewards because he makes this acting game look so effortless. Here he is on top Oscar nominated form, holding his own against the taciturn Thunderbolt. Like a depression era John Steinbeck classic turned into a modern day crime movie, this shows the light and the dark that makes the US such an endlessly fascinating landscape. Thunderbolt may be grasping for the American Dream, but at what cost? On second thought, maybe Cimino was the Sheep and the suits at United Artist’s were the Wolves that gobbled up this mercurial talent. 
A classic of 1970’s Americana that should be worshipped anew on this pristine BluRay transfer.
Unless you count a menu screen, this is strictly bare bones with not even a subtitle option. A great shame that there is no contextual material for this American classic.

Jason Abbey