It's R and I should have really taken that into consideration when I watched it with my parents. It's extremely hard to get my parents to sit down and just relax with us. Scrolling through Netflix, we thought we could appeal to my stepfather with a movie starring Clint Eastwood that was shot in '74. We thought the R would be for '70s violence and some light cursing. Um...apparently, it's R for random nudity and sex acts that come out of the blue. You can't prep. Every time you think it's done being inappropriate, something really sexual just sneaks in there. It's really weird and uncomfortable at times. Also, the '70s might have been pretty regressive when it came to gender politics. R.
DIRECTOR: Michael Camino
Oh my gosh! Michael Camino directed The Deer Hunter and Heaven's Gate? I didn't see that coming. I had always heard about Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. As in...I had heard of the title and I thought that Clint Eastwood was in it. That's about as much as I had known about the film before going into this. We were desperate. We wanted something old and engaging and that's kind of what we got. What I didn't realize that we were sitting down to watch one of the more insane movies I had seen in a while. The thing is that it caught me off guard. '70s action movies are almost in a subgenre of their own, so I should have been ready for this. But I just wasn't. It was amazing that my parents actually were willing to watch something with us and I just thought, "Hmm...Clint Eastwood." The Greatest Generation and Baby Boomers love Clint Eastwood. (I, too, like Clint Eastwood.)
And that's when the naked ladies started showing up. Okay, the movie is more than naked ladies. But I do have to warn everyone: you can't steel yourself for these moments because a lot of them happen when you aren't expecting them. I would ask why director Michael Camino decided to do this in the film, but I kind of get it. The movie is constantly about defying expectations. It thrives on delivering the unexpected. This is only kind of a spoiler, so I won't bold it, but the movie literally starts with Clint Eastwood delivering a sermon in a church which leads to a shootout. Yeah, I wasn't ready for that. Camino is kind of amazing with playing with the concept that you should be on your toes. If you expect the movie to veer left, it is going to veer as hard right as it can. There are moments where you think you know what you are watching and it just takes this trope as far as it can in the other direction. I really want to talk about one of these moments because I kept looking over to my wife and reminded her, "Remember when this happened?" I am going to avoid going specific with it because the joy of this movie comes from just the shock value that is attached to the most bizarre scene in a movie that really doesn't seem to be about shock. (Okay, I don't know if that made any sense or if I even stand by that, but let's leave it for now.) When I think about Clint Eastwood, I often think of him being removed from any absurdity. Sure, he drove a truck around the country with an orangutan in two separate films, but that seems like he was tricked into that. Maybe I just didn't really understand Clint Eastwood in those days. It's odd to think that this is the director of Letters from Iwo Jima and really serious films like that. But I kind of like absurd Clint Eastwood. Couple that with the idea that the movie stars a young Jeff Bridges. A lot of people love Jeff Bridges as The Dude. I don't have an opinion on The Dude. I like him (which I suppose is an opinion), but I also don't like the fact that a lot of Bridges's performances have been tainted by The Dude. There's a little Dude in every character he's done since then. Even the ones you wouldn't think of like Obadiah Stane have a little Dude in them. Yeah, Jeff Bridges is still Jeff Bridges and I suppose the Dude is part of who he is. But this might be my favorite Jeff Bridges role. Bridges has always played kind of a carefree guy. Age never really seems to follow many of his performances unless he's intentionally playing older. But his template is kind of ageless. But it is interesting to see what he does when he's actually young enough to match those character choices. I adore Lightfoot. He's probably my favorite part of this movie because it actually looks like Jeff Bridges is having as much fun as his character is. I never really buy Clint Eastwood enjoying this trip. But Bridges? He's having a blast. He also has some of the major acting chop moments of the movie. Honestly, Bridges makes this movie really worth watching.
This movie is challenging me a bit. There's a deeper level to this movie that exists, and it might be hard to attach to because I think it was made with a superficial attitude. I honestly think that the movie is just trying to have a fun time. I could look at the latent homophobia running through the movie. But I don't really see that as the primary concern of the film. If anything, I kind of want to defend the drag scene because it really rides the line between being outright offensive and just working for the part of the story. Okay, here's me playing devil's advocate for the drag scene: it really doesn't need to happen. From a narrative perspective, and the film even verbalizes this, the drag scene doesn't work as planned. It's a flaw in the entire idea, which makes the joke work better. But I saw this ad for how Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is homophobic because of that scene. I will say, if someone is offended, I can't really hold it against them. But I think that scene is not really laughing at a group of people so much as it is taking Lightfoot as a character and putting him in a scene of discomfort. Lightfoot, throughout the story, is carefree and gung-ho about the whole life of crime. He's willing to do a lot and kind of stumbles into a lot of luck throughout the piece. His conflict with Red makes him a hero because he is often right in his argumentation. Red is constantly in a state of discomfort, mainly because he's often shown for being wrong and buffoonish. By having Lightfoot wear drag to distract the guard in that scene, Lightfoot never comments on the sexuality of the situation. He never really fights kicking and screaming, questioning his sexuality. Rather, Lightfoot's character is revealed that he can put his money where his mouth is. If Red is uncomfortable having Lightfoot on his team or even recreating the original heist, Lightfoot is matching his discomfort by drawing the short straw. I'm not saying that the sexual politics of the 1970s wasn't regressive. It was. There's this whole story, tying back into the obsession with surprising and shocking the audience, where a man describes tricking that security guard into performing a sexual act. That scene is a "laugh-at" scene. But I don't know if the drag scene is as cut and dry as the rest of it. Again, I'm fighting a battle where I have no stake in either side, which doesn't exactly make me an authority on what is or is not regressive. But narratively, had that part of the story played out the way the plan was meant to go, kind of works with the whole even. The alternative, which I think is equally problematic, is that the crew hires the prostitutes the the film had been alluding to the entire time.
The end of the film is oddly satsifying to me, but I'm going to point out that there should be some real moments of "beyond belief" logic in the film. SPOILERS FOR THE END OF THE FILM: My wife knew that Clint Eastwood still had the money and she was mostly right. She thought that Eastwood knew where the money was the entire time and was just doing this second heist to get everyone off of his back. The moving of the school is slightly absurd. I don't know why I'm okay with it. The odds that they run into by accident while Lightfoot is dying is positively nuts. But this ties back into what I've been saying about the movie the entire time. The movie dares its audience to take it seriously. So many insane things happen in the film that when the school moves to a new location, that seems to be the least absurd thing that the film could have posited. Do you know how much I want Michael Camino to be a mastermind right now? Think about this. Michael Camino has a heist film where he knows that his characters have to fail the heist and still have a happy ending, removing all of the troublesome characters along the way. He has this great idea of sticking all of this money behind a chalkboard of a one-room schoolhouse and he knows that Eastwood can't just get the money. So he can't figure out how to get that money until he thinks that he has to move the schoolhouse. But that idea is kind of silly. How do you justify the end of your movie having a silly and cop-out ending? By making every moment in the film absolutely bonkers. This ending only works because of the dozens of outrageous things that happen before this point. Maybe the ending dictated the entire fun tone of this film. Maybe there was a version that was a straight up heist film that had little frivolity. After all, the movie is about these killers who are trying to hunt the protagonists down because one of them double-crossed them. If you've ever seen '70s revenge thrillers, they are painted red with blood. And the blood is really red...mainly because it is made of paint. I would never have thought that. To fight for an ending that didn't work, they made a much better to movie to make the end work. I mean, look at Camino's other films. Do they really look like absurd action comedies with touching ends? I don't get that vibe from him at all, yet here is Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. The movie needs Lightfoot's death. It's so odd and I don't think that the movie wanted anything but a memorable ending. But Lightfoot's death is oddly haunting compared to a lot of movies that feature the death of one of the protagonists. Killing off a main character of a story is a pretty common way to end a film. But by killing Lightfoot, there's something that's being communicated that's actually kind of heavy. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot are two guys who aren't strapped for cash. They kind of have a Bonnie and Clyde thing going on in the sense that they are nomadic and just take what they want. Having a major score to retire isn't their personality. But they are robbing the place almost for the thrill of it all. Yeah, the morality is terrible throughout the film. Because the movie isn't about the money, Lightfoot's death has to be the close of the film. The score wasn't the cash. The score was about two friends doing something huge together. The thing that kept them together was the fact that they helped each other out of small scrapes here and there. By succeeding in their big crime, there's no need for the little crimes anymore. That symbiotic relationship is broken and their friendship can only exist on its own merits. I don't really think that either character, in their heart of hearts, really cared about the money. It's only a physically verifiable way to define their own success. That's what the White Cadillac was. It was a way of saying that we had a set of goals and that proves that the goal was achieved. It's really interesting as a choice. The choice is sad, but it is almost like saying that they crossed off the last thing on the bucket list. The guys had nothing to look forward to, so the innocent one had to leave. He was no longer an innocent (in the sense that he wasn't a pro). He was just another rich gangster and that doesn't really fit his personality.
The movie is really dated and I feel so nervous saying that I liked it. It's really a fun film and it is only taken to a level of transcendence with its absurdity. If you want to see what Gary Busey was like (weirdly high credit for him) before the accident, you can watch him here. The sex stuff is so unnecessary, but the rest of the film is really fun.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.