Rolling Thunder Blu-ray Review
Directed by John Flynn
Written by Paul Schrader and Heywood Gould
1977, Region 1, 95 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on May 28th, 2013
William Devane as Major Charles Rane
Tommy Lee Jones as John Vohden
Linda Haynes as Linda
Lawrason Driscoll as Cliff
Dabney Coleman as Maxwell
James Best as Texan
Luke Askew as Automatic Slim
After seven years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, Major Charles Rane has finally returned home to Texas. He is met at the airport by friends and family, including his estranged wife and son. The town welcomes him with open arms, a fancy red Cadillac convertible and a box of silver dollars (one for each day he was away). Things are different now and the major is socially awkward, as life has moved on stateside, but his experiences as a POW have changed him too.
Rane’s local celebrity status attracts the attention of some greedy scumbags looking to get rich by robbing him. His refusal to simply hand over the coins costs him dearly as the thugs torture him and attack his family. The major wakes in a hospital with a hook for a hand and a burning desire for revenge. With the help of Linda, a love-struck waitress, and his friend John Vohden, who was imprisoned alongside him in the war, Rane unleashes hell on those who hurt him. As he pursues his tormentors, he is followed by a local lawman who hopes to prevent more bloodshed.
Director John Flynn (Out for Justice) teases audiences with a slowly building allegory for how veterans are treated upon their return home. The first hour of the film introduces not only the major to society, but also reveals his awkwardness and a strong capability to fight back once pushed too far. The intensity of Paul Schrader’s script builds from an unsettling calm to a shockingly violent conclusion, not unlike his work on Taxi Driver. The story received a dialogue polish by Heywood Gould (The Boys from Brazil), who also provided a more upbeat ending than Schrader intended.
William Devane (Marathon Man) is at his best in this tale of a troubled vet who wants to be left alone, bearing more than a passing resemblance to Stallone’s original depiction of the character John Rambo in First Blood (1982). Tommy Lee Jones (Black Moon Rising) is quietly disturbing as John Vohden, the loyal friend also struggling to readjust to life without combat, who jumps at the opportunity to punish the offenders. There is something unsettling in the soldiers’ decision to wear their dress uniforms for their final assault in the Mexican whorehouse. Linda Haynes (Coffy) is effective as the waitress who joins the adventure believing the goal is a romantic getaway.
The supporting cast is pretty awesome on all fronts, especially James Best (The Dukes of Hazzard) and Luke Askew (The Beast Within) as the leaders of the villainous gang. Lawrason Driscoll’s Deputy Cliff is a sympathetic figure in a role that is inherently antagonistic, but is handled with just enough sincerity to make the character likeable. Dabney Coleman (Wargames) is always a welcome presence and is excellent here in the small role as a military counselor. Genre fans may be pleasantly surprised to see Paul Partain (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) turn up as Vohden’s brother-in-law.
Thirty years ago, Rolling Thunder received a shoddy VHS release and was a staple of late night cable television. In the mid 1990s, Quentin Tarantino listed the film as one of his favorites and his fans rallied behind it, yet a proper DVD release remained elusive. There was a limited MOD (Manufacture on Demand) disc in 2011 and a British import Blu-ray the following year. Shout! Factory presents the long-overdue domestic debut of this exploitation classic and fans will definitely want to check it out. The film is still powerful and has received a lot more interpretation over the years than necessary, but audiences in search of a good old-fashioned revenge picture will be in for a treat.
Video and Audio:
Rolling Thunder arrives with an impressive transfer that appears to be the same used for the recent UK release. The picture is presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and looks pretty fantastic for a film of this age. While a full restoration has not been applied, the material appears quite nice. Colors are bright and black levels solid with plenty of small item detail, particularly in close-ups. There is some minor print damage throughout, but nothing too distracting.
The film receives only a single 2.0 DTS HD audio track that preserves the film’s original mono mix. There is a surprising level of clarity in both music and effects, particularly during the gunfights. Dialogue remains clear and free from distortion and English subtitles are provided.
The main attraction here is a 22-minute “making-of “featurette that covers the history of the production and offers new interviews with many key players. Stars William Devane and Tommy Lee Jones share their recollections of the film, the director and the various changes to the script. Writers Paul Schrader and Heywood Gould provide a detailed account of how the story changed and why. The piece is very informative and highly entertaining.
The original trailer is paired with assorted TV and radio spots.
A gallery of production stills and poster art rounds out the bonus materials.
The supplements here are pretty sweet, but anyone in possession of the UK import disc will want to hang onto it for the interviews and commentary. It is likely that Shout! Factory attempted to include these materials, but for whatever reason they are missing in action.
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