Friday, January 04, 2013

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot

Written and directed by Michael Cimino, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is the story about a Korean war veteran who takes in a young drifter to help him pull off one final heist with some old friends. The film is a genre-bending film that blends the road movie, buddy comedy, and the heist film as it explores the friendship between two very different men. Starring Clint Eastwood, Jeff Bridges, Geoffrey Lewis, and George Kennedy. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is an incredible debut film from Michael Cimino.

A minister known as Thunderbolt (Clint Eastwood) is evading an assassin who is after him where Thunderbolt runs into a drifter named Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges) who had just stolen a car as Thunderbolt goes into his car as Lightfoot accidentally hits the assassin with the car. The two decide to go on the road where Lightfoot learns who Thunderbolt really is as he was one of the members of a gang who had robbed an armory in Montana. Despite being chased by Thunderbolt’s old friend Red Leary (George Kennedy) and his accomplice Goody (Geoffrey Lewis), Thunderbolt and Lightfoot escape their way through different cars where they arrive in Warsaw, Montana to find the lost loot.

After realizing that the schoolhouse where Thunderbolt stashed the loot in is gone and replaced by a bigger schoolhouse, the duo’s troubles get worse when they’re finally captured by Leary and Goody. After a tussle and the revelation about the schoolhouse, the four men are unsure about what to do until Lightfoot suggests about doing the robbery all over again but with different ideas. Thunderbolt and Goody agree to the idea though Leary has his reservations about Lightfoot as the four decide to get real jobs to fund the heist. After getting an anti-tank gun and other things, the gang gets ready for the heist where Lightfoot plays a key role for the heist. Though everything seems to go well, something goes wrong where things become complicated as well as some big revelations for Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.

The film is essentially the story of two different men who meet by accident where they team up to retrieve stolen money one of them had stashed only for it to be gone as they team up with two other men to plan another heist. Yet, it’s a film that blends all sorts of genre where it’s a buddy comedy, a road film, and a heist film all rolled into one as it’s about the dynamic between these two very different men from different age groups and lifestyles as they team up for this heist. Michael Cimino’s screenplay doesn’t have a lot of plot as it is about the friendship between these two men and how they decide to plan a heist with Thunderbolt’s old friends to settle some old scores yet things become uneasy due to Red Leary’s reservations towards the young Lightfoot.

Cimino’s script also has a great complexity to the characters he creates in not just its titular protagonists as they’re just two different men trying to live their life any way they want. He also creates an interesting characterization in the Red Leary character who is upset over the fact that Thunderbolt seemingly screwed him over their last robbery where the money was as it was never retrieved. Once he decides to team-up with Thunderbolt for a new heist, Leary is still unsure about the idea as he feels threatened by the presence of the more easy-going Lightfoot who is much nicer to everyone else including Leary’s accomplice Goody who doesn’t get treated with much respect by Leary.

Cimino’s direction is definitely vast in terms of the visual style he presents as he shoots the film largely on location in Montana. A lot of which features many wide scenes in exterior locations where Cimino takes advantage of the landscape for a wide depth of field in those shots. Cimino creates a lot of unique compositions to these exterior shots in the way he places the actors in these locations. It’s not just the location setting where Cimino creates unique shots but also in the interiors where he manages to find an intimacy in these settings while using the camera to establish what is going on there. Notably where Cimino will find some idea of humor to these scenes such as Leary riding in a small ice cream truck with Goody who is working as an ice cream man.

Cimino also creates some dazzling sequences in the film’s heist sequence where it’s about a lot that is happening where each character plays a role in the heist. Some of which is comical as it involves some very strange ideas that end up being very funny. It is later followed by some very chilling scenes where it is about what people do in the aftermath of a heist which involves loyalties and such. Overall, Cimino creates a film that is entertaining as well as captivating in the exploration of friendship and loyalty.

Cinematographer Frank Stanley does brilliant work with the film‘s evocative cinematography from the beautiful look of the Montana locations with its mountains and farmland as well as some nighttime shots with stylish lights to set the mood. Editor Ferris Webster does wonderful work with the editing to create some dazzling cuts in the film‘s heist scene as well as some rhythmic cuts for some of its livelier moments. Art director Tambi Larsen and set decorator James L. Berkey do terrific work with the set pieces from the look of the church in the film’s opening scene to some of the interior scenes such as the trailer that the four men lived in to plan the heist.

Sound editor Keith Stafford does nice work with the sound to capture the chaos of some of the more raucous moments of the film while going for an intimacy in the film‘s quieter moments. The film’s music by Dee Barton is excellent for its score as it features a lot of playful country music as well as some brooding, orchestral-driven music for the heist scene as the music also features a song written and performed by Paul Williams.

The casting by Patricia Mock is fantastic for the ensemble that is created as it features some notable appearances from Bill McKinney as crazy driver with a raccoon and rabbits, Gregory Walcott as a car salesman duped by Lightfoot, Gary Busey as a carpenter Lightfoot works with, and Catherine Bach as a woman Lightfoot meets early in the film. Geoffrey Lewis is excellent as the often mistreated Goody who proves to be very helpful yet doesn’t get appreciated from the more selfish Leary. George Kennedy is great as the very devious Red Leary who dislikes Lightfoot while being very cruel to those around him making things complicated for the heist.

Finally, there’s the duo of Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges in amazing performances in their respective roles as Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. Both men each provide laidback approaches to their roles with Eastwood as the more grizzled veteran who shows Lightfoot the ropes while Bridges gets to bring a lot of humor to the character of Lightfoot. Notably as Bridges often says funny things that would irk Leary while doing things that just adds to the humor.

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is a phenomenal film from Michael Cimino that features superb performances from Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges. The film is definitely one of the most entertaining and visually-astonishing films of the 1970s as well as one of Cimino’s highlight in his career as a filmmaker. It’s also a very unconventional film that plays to all sorts of genres while not being afraid to take itself so seriously. In the end, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is a remarkable film from Michael Cimino.

Michael Cimino Films: The Deer Hunter - Heaven's Gate - Year of the Dragon - The Sicilian - Desperate Hours (1990 film) - The Sunchaser - To Each His Own Cinema-No Translation Needed - The Auteurs #35: Michael Cimino

© thevoid99 2013

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