Look At Our Facebook Page Look At Our Twitter Page Buy Our Books On Amazon Buy Our Books On Our Paypal Shop

Murder Slim Review: ROLLING THUNDER

Murder Slim Press's Reviews Murder Slim Press's Outsiders Film Reviews Rolling Thunder Murder Slim's Reviews A to Z Murder Slim Press's Charles Bukowski and John Fante Reviews Murder Slim Press's Literary Film Reviews Murder Slim's Book Reviews Murder Slim's Crime and Sleaze Reviews Return to MurderSlim.com

Once you see ROLLING THUNDER, you'll ask the same question that a bunch of people have asked for almost forty years. Why the fuck don't more people know about it?

It's possibly because the director - John Flynn - isn't very well respected. He's known as a solid second-unit guy and action movie director. LOCK UP is probably his most famous movie... it's fun but hardly a classic. Another big reason may be rights' issues. These can tie up a lot of movies for a number of years. Famously, the second season of TWIN PEAKS was a pain-in-the-ass to bring to DVD, because of having to sort out various producers/distributors. And a bunch of TV series from the 90's now come with a completely different soundtrack due to pesky sound rights (see NORTHERN EXPOSURE).

To a good film fan, ROLLING THUNDER will already look great on paper. This makes it all the more baffling why it's still so nearly unknown. Quentin Tarantino named his first production company after the movie. The director of cinematography is Jordan Cronenweth, who's a hugely acclaimed cinematographer after his work on BLADE RUNNER. Oh, and ROLLING THUNDER stars Tommy Lee Jones (Oscar winner) and William Devane (respected character actor). And it's even written by Paul Schrader (TAXI DRIVER, RAGING BULL).

ROLLING THUNDER fits into the spirit of its time and - like TAXI DRIVER - shows Schrader's interest in the Vietnam War. Devane plays Major Charles Rane, who returns home after being stuck in a prison camp for years and largely left for dead. He's awkward around people, and struggles to integrate with his family. They barely remember him. But he loves them - hell, he's even meticulously made a little American flag as a present for his kid.

But it turns out his wife has gone off with another guy while Rane's been locked up and tortured for seven years. Yet Rane accepts that grudgingly too. He knew men (even from his base) would hit on her once he was suspected dead.
"I knew, we all knew. Couldn't have been any other way... Why don't you go to bed, we'll work all this out."
"What are you going to do?"
"I'm just going to sit here."

But Rane doesn't. He tries to sleep but is assaulted by flashbacks from his torture. He tries to do press-ups, but that doesn't help. Pills don't either. His main concern in staying in contact with his boy, and you even see him playing catch with the little shit-monster.

A brief bright-spot is when Rane is given the keys to a Cadillac Convertible, a kind of "thank you for undergoing seven years of torture and not cracking." A department-store sponsored "young Texas Belle who wore your bracelet all the time you were away" also presents him with a silver dollar "for every day he was in Hanoi's Hellhole"... That's 2555 dollar coins in all with 1 extra for good luck and a kiss from the gal.

But even those bright spots turn dark pretty damn quickly. He returns home to find a gang of raiders after the silver dollars. He refuses to crack and tell them where the coins are hidden, even after his hand is shredded in the garbage disposal. And then ROLLING THUNDER takes its further, with enough violence that even the pacifist amongst you would want to hunt down those silver-dollar stealing assholes. Like Rane, you'd want to sharpen that new hook hand. And you'll be able to think of a few places you'd like to shove it (Rane actually obliges by getting one villain in the gonads).

Devane does a great job as Rane, with a calm croaky delivery of his lines that gets across his emotion in an understated yet heartfelt way. Schrader's dialogue is natty and naturalistic. I liked when Rane first gets home with his wife and notices she isn't wearing a brassiere. That's love, right there. Rane is also a picture of restraint with his wife's new guy, incapable of feeling hatred towards the guy... but also wanting to show him what his last seven years were like:
"See, they had this little rope trick... got your down on your knees. Tied your hands behind you... Pulled em up.... Higher, HIGHER...!"
His wife's new guy replies: "I don't know how you did it."
"You learn to love the rope. That's how you beat it. That's how you beat people who torture you. You learn to love them and that way they don't know you're beating them."

And there are more things to love about ROLLING THUNDER. Linda Vorchat, the gal who presents the silver dollars, oozes with small town hotness. She assumes she can get any man, so is attracted to the taciturn and reticent Rane. But she has a certain class about her too. She grew up on a farm and knows how to shoot a gun. And she never abandons Rane, no matter how rough things get. Again, there's some beautiful dialogue, with Linda saying how she's 30 and has been around the block a few times. She admires Rane's courage because she's seen nothing but weakness in her life.

John Flynn's direction isn't stagy or particularly stylish. But it's effective and classy. Effort is taken in the set-ups of the shoot-outs, in the squib effects, and in the tight pacing. It's also shown in the restraint of the emotional scenes, where under-acting rules. I loved the scene when Tommy Lee Jones leaves him family at the dinner table to help out his friend. The camera just sits there, as he comes to say "bye" before leaving at the back of the frame. Flynn's work is an unsung hero of ROLLING THUNDER, while the showy "stars" of the movie are easy to see - the acting, the dialogue and the story.

There aren't a lot of movies that hit exactly the right note with a viewer. Maybe a hundred? Fifty? ROLLING THUNDER is one of those movies. I loved it the first time I watched I watched it, and I did just the same - spotting more things - the two times I've seen it again. Give yourself a personal Valentine's present and fall in love with ROLLING THUNDER. It's cheaper than a partner and won't leave you... even if you're banged up for seven years.

Review by Steve Hussy