Thursday, June 4, 2009

Rolling Thunder (1977)

Directed by John Flynn. Revenge movies are very simple but not very easy. The plot is always the same but it is hard to make work. For the movie to succeed, we need to want revenge as badly as the film's main character -- but what should we feel once the hero gets his revenge? There are wooden-headed films about nothing more than the satisfaction that comes with settling a grudge and more complicated ones that consider whether vengeance comes with the price of lowering oneself to the level of one's enemy.

I like the idea that either way the hero of a revenge movie makes a sacrifice on behalf of the audience. They sacrifice their soul so that the audience may feel cathartic satisfaction without paying the price of malice.

As a movie "Rolling Thunder" works it manages to have it every which way. William Devane plays Major Charles Rane, a late-70s Hollywood boilerplate Vietnam POW -- psychologically scarred, physically wounded, alternately sneered at and condescended to by society. As if things couldn't get any worse, his wife and kid get murdered when their house is robbed by Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane, who also pushes his hand down a garbage disposal.

Major Rane spends the rest of the movie running around Mexico, somehow a lot more physically agile than he was before the robbery, finding the killers one-by-one using methods never made perfectly clear and exacting extremely satisfying revenge with the help of a hot chick played by Linda Haynes and fellow disenfranchised vet Tommy Lee Jones.

There's a nice 'we're all guilty" angle to it all because in the end, Major Rane and his buddy finally feel at home in post-war civilization again as killing machines, which we turned them into, so really it's our own fault. They got their revenge and they feel at home again. Major Rane can't get his family back, but at least he has his sanity. And the revenge film genre is far healthier than it is in the hands of Sylvester Stallone.

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