ROLLING THUNDER (1977)
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It’s 1973 and Major Charles Rayne (William Devane) has finally come home after a seven year incarceration as a POW in Viet Nam. He receives a hero’s welcome, but the celebration is short lived. His wife has fallen for another and wants a divorce and his young son hardly knows him. His crumbling family is the least of his problems, though, as some thugs break into his home to steal some silver dollars he was given as a welcome home present. They torture and mutilate Charlie, grinding his hand in a garbage disposal to get him to talk. When they finally get what they want, they kill his wife and son and he is shot and left for dead. Now Charlie, wearing a hook for a hand, begins to hunt down his assailants, one by one, with payback on his mind!
Rolling Thunder is flatly directed by John Flynn from a script by Paul Schrader and Heywood Gould. It is considered a cult classic by many, but is actually kind of a dull revenge flick. All the characters speak their lines in the same monotone delivery and pacing of the film is slow, even for this era of filmmaking. Aside from the brutal torture/robbery scene, there are a few sparse scenes of action/violence till the bloody shoot-out at it’s climax, which is somewhat effective though not enough to really turn the film around. The flick just doesn’t really live up to it’s reputation and forty years later, the violence that does occur, including the trash compactor mutilation of William Devane’s Viet Nam vet, isn’t as startling as it may have been in 1977. The film is a bit too trashy to be an A-list thriller, yet there is not enough blood, boobs and bullets to be a true exploitation flick. The by-the-numbers direction really doesn’t help matters, either, as one wishes the film had a little more life to it, at least when the bullets finally start to fly. It’s another cult classic that doesn’t seem like all that big a deal when finally seen…or at least hasn’t aged well enough to still grab you all these years later.
The flick has a decent cast, though the monotone delivery of all the dialogue real keeps it from firing on all cylinders. William Devane is a good actor, yet here he adds little emotion to a man who is given much to emote about. His war veteran has been traumatized by his experiences as a POW, true, but he reacts to everything with the same emotional detachment including the murder of his young son and his own mutilation. He’s the emotional center of the film, yet he displays very little emotion. Same can be said of pretty Linda Haynes as Linda, a young woman who falls for Charlie and is along for most of the ride to revenge. Again that same monotone delivery although she is a bit livelier than Devane. Considering Charlie’s emotional flatline, Linda’s attraction to him never really clicks. As a fellow solider, Tommy Lee Jones also acts emotionally comatose and it also doesn’t help his character that he disappears for almost an hour and then simply follows along when Devane needs help during the final confrontation. We never really get to know him. As for the bad guys (Luke Askew, Charles Escamilla, Pete Ortega and James Best), they are all generic thugs and aside from their vile actions during the robbery, we don’t really get to know them well enough for them to really resonate as strong villains. They are just stereotypical bad guys. The only one that stands out a bit is Askew’s Automatic Slim, who is the one who torments Devane. Other than that, there is nothing special about these guys to make you really feel the hate for them.
This is another much talked about flick that didn’t live up to it’s reputation when finally caught up to. Maybe it was effective back in it’s time, but now the violence isn’t all that shocking and the film’s pacing is rather slow for a revenge flick. The actors all deliver their lines in the same emotionally detached monotone and the direction is very by-the-numbers with no real flair, even in the climactic gunfight. It has some effective moments, like the cruel robbery Charlie suffers and the final shoot-out at it’s climax, but in-between the movie never maintained a firm grip to really keep one emotionally invested in the journey down the road to revenge. Ultimately the film was a bit too trashy to be considered an A-list thriller, yet not quite trashy enough to be a real solid exploitation film. I suppose it’s worth a look to see what the fuss is about, but not really worth all that fuss.
2 and 1/2 prosthetic hooks.