Monday, December 28, 2009

Rolling Thunder (1977)

First question: why the fuck isn't this movie out on DVD yet?

Secondly, I don't think anybody's going to make a movie like this today. How many filmmakers are still even trying to make tough-as-nails action/revenge pictures that are also fairly well-detailed studies of sociocultural alienation? Yeah, I can't think of any either.

Rolling Thunder is the story of Maj. Charles Rane, a recently freed P.O.W., just back from Vietnam, who hasn't yet returned to the land of the living. Landing in Texas, he finds that his wife has decided to marry a local cop in his absence and soon small time hoods come to collect on a gift the local department store has given to their small town hero. The hoods try to torture him, which doesn't work since he learned to endure torture in Nam, and they end up killing his wife and kid. You know where the rest of the story is headed. As his military buddy Johnny, (Tommy Lee Jones) puts it: "I'm gonna kill a bunch of people."

When Twentieth-Century Fox saw the film, they were horrified by the violence and sold it to American International for release. And the movie is definitely violent. But, the screenplay, by Paul Schrader and Heywood Gould, is well-researched and shrewd. I like the scenes with Rane trying to reestablish order in his life by making and remaking his bed in the Army style. It was also nice that the film didn't feature any hackneyed run-ins with hippies. The dialogue was naturalistic and believable, and Devane's extremely low-key performance works very well.

Paul Schrader, of course, wrote the very similar Taxi Driver, also about an alienated, traditional male in a world that he feels has lost all sense of balance; it is implied that Travis Bickle is a vet as well. Actually, I think you can see Taxi Driver, Hardcore, and Rolling Thunder as three films about more traditional men who are horrified by the cheapening of the culture around them (particularly sexually), who lash out with violence in order to right things in their eyes. Considering the fact that Schrader was raised in an extremely traditional religious community, this is an interesting thread in his work.

So, clearly, they need to release Rolling Thunder on DVD. If not for Schrader afficianados, then surely for Tommy Lee Jones fans or action movie fanatics.

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