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Rolling Thunder (1977) – Review

rolling thunder poster

Films made in the 1970s, especially dramatic pieces tended to be a lot more gritty than what followed in the next decade and looking back on movies like Rolling Thunder it’s easy to see why they have attained cult status.

The film stars William Devane and a young Tommy Lee Jones and concerns soldiers coming back from Vietnam and trying to adjust back to normal life. Charlie Rane (Devane) is happy with his wife and daughter but things have changed since he went away, the fact that she and others thought that he was killed in action led her to seek love and comfort elsewhere. On his arrival back he was given as a gift from the town a suitcase full of dollar coins and it is this gift that makes the local criminal gang set out to rob him.

During the robbery, Devane has his hand mangled in a sink grinder and his wife and child are murdered until he finally tells them where it was hidden. They escape with the money and leave Rane shocked and distraught but surprisingly restrained. But when other things start to go against him he gets angry and teams up with a local girl who has a crush on him to drive to Mexico to find the men who murdered his family and get his revenge.

Along the way, he again teams up with old army buddy Johnny (Tommy Lee Jones) and it’s all set for a bloody and violent confrontation.

As mentioned Rolling Thunder has since gained cult status and inspired Quentin Tarantino to name his former video company Rolling Thunder Pictures. The movie was written by Paul Schrader and made after Taxi Driver, which he also wrote. While it has similarities to the later Stallone film First Blood this is much more slow-paced and not really an action film.

It starts slowly and gradually builds up to a boiling point when he can no longer tolerate what has happened to him and his family. It shows how difficult it was for the men to adjust after what they saw and did in Vietnam and even Tommy Lee Jones’s character is uncomfortable back at his family home.

While the film was praised for its acting and performances at the time it was criticised for its violence. The finale especially for its time was very violent and bloody and in fact, got into trouble with the MPPA American ratings board. Director John Flynn takes his time with the drama and it works very well, in later years he went on to direct one of Steven Seagal’s best movies Out For Justice and Stallone’s Lock Up. He sadly passed away in 2007.

The film has been released on Blu Ray in the UK and the USA and both seem to have been struck from an older HD master but the picture is detailed and still good if a little flat. The mono audio mix is fine and does the job in the dialogue and dramatic action scenes. Extras include a short but interesting making-of feature and trailers.

A gritty revenge drama which while slow-paced, builds to a gritty and exciting climax.


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