Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is the feature debut of Michael Cimino, who had made his name in commercials. Cimino's screenplay for the film made its way to Eastwood at his Malpaso production company, and after flirting with the idea of directing it himself, he gave Cimino the job. Bridges was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as Lightfoot. It's a rich, unique crime caper filled with colorful characters, down to the smallest supporting roles, and features some incredible widescreen imagery of the American countryside, put together with an incredible amount of confidence for someone with the task of directing an established superstar like Eastwood as a debut, even with commercial experience under his belt.
The film's "grizzled veteran and young upstart" relationship is nothing new, but the screenplay is packed with wonderful character detail from beginning to end. Lightfoot has eyes for almost every woman he meets, from the woman who presents herself naked to him and the rest of the crew working on her house to a blonde girl on a motorcycle (Karen Lamm) who hits his work truck with a mallet when he tries to talk to her. Although Leary is arguably the antagonist, even he's got shades, in his comic relationship with Eddie, his constant sneezing problem, and the hints of his former friendship with Thunderbolt, which occasionally shines through, even though he's built up plenty of resentment during a stint in prison. The dialogue is full of comedic and dramatic bite (I like Leary's line about Lightfoot's looks: "It's a good thing I didn't hit him in the face. He'd be dead now.").
This colorful writing applies as much to tiny side characters as it does the protagonists. The gang leverages the loneliness of a fat alarm system guard (Cliff Emmich) who looks at dirty magazines inside his newspaper. While hitchhiking, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot catch a ride from a lunatic (Bill McKinney) with a caged raccoon in his front seat and a trunk full of bunny rabbits. The man in a married tourist couple realizes that Thunderbolt and Lightfoot are criminals and starts to have a nervous breakdown without either of them saying a word. When Thunderbolt and Leary show up to get a crucial combination from a bank employee, they discover his daughter sleeping with her boyfriend. The film is packed with rich details that make it more interesting, a rare film where each person who appears on screen believably has a full life unrelated to the events in the story. Although it doesn't motivate the story, it gives the world a lived-in feel, which comes in handy during the movie's intense heist sequence.
Much has been made about Thunderbolt and Lightfoot's supposed homoerotic subtext, and there's no question that idea is present within the film. The wide-grinned Burton Gilliam, playing a welder that Eastwood briefly works with, tells him about a time he put his dick in the fat alarm guard's hand as a prank, and a major part of the heist involves Bridges' character dressing in drag to distract the same guard (upon seeing himself in full makeup for the first time, Lightfoot's admiration for women doesn't stop at himself). Lightfoot also continuously presses Leary's buttons in a noticeably sexual way, mentioning he had a dream about Leary and even placing his hand over Leary's mouth and then kissing it. Most of the relationship between Thunderbolt and Lightfoot feels more fatherly, but there's certainly a love between the two men that is central to the story. Both characters were drifting when they met each other outside that random church. When they team up to rob the bank, perhaps it's because they don't know how else to express how much their companionship means to one another.
The Video and Audio
Audio is a DTS-HD 1.0 Master Audio track, reflecting the film's original theatrical sound mix. For a mono track, this is has a shocking amount of directionality and depth, even if, like the picture, the age shows through the track's slight muffle and distortion. Music and effects are nicely rendered. Bass is non-existent, though. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.