Movie Review: Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974)
“He has exactly seven minutes to get rich quick!”
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974)
Director: Michael Cimino
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Jeff Bridges, George Kennedy
Synopsis: With the help of an irreverent young sidekick, a bank robber gets his old gang back together to organise a daring new heist.
Clint Eastwood (The Dead Pool, Unforgiven) belatedly climbed aboard the buddy bandwagon in 1974 with Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, a crime comedy-drama which was the debut feature from writer/director Michael Cimino, who would, of course, go on to make a name for himself with The Deer Hunter in ’78 before falling from grace in spectacular fashion two years later with Heaven’s Gate. Cimino’s tendency towards overlong running times was already apparent, with Thunderbolt and Lightfoot‘s near-two hour running time showing signs of post-production tampering.
Eastwood is Thunderbolt, a Korea veteran turned bank robber who finds himself pursued by aggrieved former accomplice Red Leary (George Kennedy – The Sons of Katie Elder, Cool Hand Luke) and his sidekick, Goody (Geoffrey Lewis – 10 to Midnight), who mistakenly believe he has cheated them out of their share of loot from their last robbery, for which Leary did time. In truth, Thunderbolt and the gang have fallen victim to the hoariest of post-heist sub-plots: the wooden schoolhouse in which Thunderbolt hid the money has been demolished to make way for a sprawling glass-and-brick one. Leary isn’t initially inclined to listen to excuses, however, which is how Thunderbolt meets young drifter and car thief, Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges – The Last Picture Show, The Big Lebowski) whilst fleeing from Leary and his shotgun. Although they appear to have little in common, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot develop an increasingly close friendship as the older man eventually reaches an unlikely truce with Leary, and the gang decide to recreate the original robbery.
On paper, all the components for an enjoyable knockabout comedy are present and correct, but there’s something oddly awry about Thunderbolt and Lightfoot – something that prevents it from ever really clicking. It has appealing leading men in Eastwood and Bridges, two able semi-comic foils in the ever-reliable George Kennedy and under-rated Geoffrey Lewis, and a typically irreverent ’70s attitude towards authority. It should fly, it really should – but it spends most of its time flapping its wings without ever really getting airborne. The problem is two-fold. While both Eastwood and Bridges are fine actors in their own right, they’re like oil and water on-screen, with Bridges’ spirited exuberance repeatedly overshadowing Eastwood’s infinitely more laid-back persona. This disparity of their characters severely limits the chances for any chemistry between the two, and as Cimino neglects to give either man much of a back story, it’s difficult for us to identify with them.
The fact that Cimino finds it impossible to drive the plot forward while simultaneously charting the developing bromance between the two men results in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot becoming something of a fractured movie; it meanders amiably along in its first hour, briefly pausing to contemplate calculatedly offbeat encounters with naked women and crazed drivers which function purely as self-contained vignettes to deepen the men’s bond, before suddenly remembering that the publicity material promised the audience a heist movie. To be fair, each portion of the movie is fine, they just don’t blend together the way that they should, especially as Cimino struggles to make us believe that Leary, the man who’s been chasing Thunderbolt around the country on a mission of righteous vengeance for half the movie, would agree to embark on another heist with the crook he believed cheated him. At least Kennedy and Lewis stoke the dying fire whenever they show up. In fact, it would be a lot more interesting to spend a couple of hours in the company of Leary and Goody than Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.
(Reviewed 16th May 2016)