I discovered through the years of watching a bunch of movies that given my choices, likes and dislikes that Thunderbolt and Lightfoot was a cinematic blind spot for me. It's not for much reason, other than I never got around to it, but given the stars and the backdrop it should have been something I probably should have gotten around to seeing sooner. Stupid life things!
Anyway, written and directed by Michael Cimino in his feature debut (The Deer Hunter), Thunderbolt (Clint Eastwood, American Sniper) is a bank robber laying low and avoiding his old partners who think he double-crossed them. He runs into Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges, Bad Times at the El Royale), a thief on a lower scale, but one with bigger dreams of bigger scores to take. Thunderbolt is forced into a pretty big job to pull, and using a large caliber weapon that earned his nickname, while trying to find a one-room schoolhouse in the middle of Montana.
Given where Eastwood was at this point in his career, to see him show a little more kind of comic timing (after all this was several years before he co-starred next to an orangutan) playing off of Bridges, as well as George Kennedy and Geoffrey Lewis (who play the aforementioned partners) is fun to see, to say nothing of the varied other supporting characters in Montana with rabbits in their trunk or walking around their house naked. They are admittedly a little surreal or perhaps eccentric given that they are in Montana, but they help serve as a distraction away from the story for a few moments.
At the heart is the evolution in the relationship between Eastwood and Bridges' respective characters, how Thunderbolt eventually serves as a fountain of wisdom for Lightfoot, who sometimes realizes he could be in over his head on some of the job. He kind of serves as the relief valve for the film in some of the things he does, but there's a sense of swagger associated to the brash young thief that strolls off screen much in the same way Lightfoot walks up to a used car dealer, leather pants on in the middle of the summer. Thunderbolt's transition from quiet, guarded guy to a teacher is just as entertaining, and at the time, served as adding a layer of emotional depth to Eastwood's work. There are a lot of long Cimino shots that you see later on in his work that are prevalent here, but you get the sense that Eastwood is the one running things, while Cimino gets a chance or two to show off, and he does to decent effort.
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot may not have broken new ground in the reluctant buddy/heist films, but there is some emotional nuance to it that few films in the era would have even considered exploring, and that, combined with some bizarre yet funny moments, certainly make it one to leave on if it comes on the television. It does not reinvent the wheel, but the drive on it is a fun one to experience for a multitude of reasons.The Blu-ray
A new 4K remaster was done for the Blu-ray and it looks nice. I have seen parts of the movie before and remember how much attention and love is given to the Montana countryside, and it looks natural here (I spent a week in the town where they filmed this and remember how timeless it looked). Film grain is present throughout and colors look good, whether it's the brown grain or green grass against the sky. Frank Stanley's work is given a lot of love on the disc.The Sound:
Two-channel DTS-HD Master Audio for the release, which is fine I suppose, but a bit of a bummer given the dynamic effects in the third act robbery, the gunfire in the opening church sequence, and later when Lightfoot peels out of a used car lot in a mustang. Dialogue sounds consistent during the film and Paul Williams' (surprisingly good) song sounds impressive in the front of the soundstage. Given the source Kino did fine by the film overall.Extras:
Film critic Nick Pinkerton provides a commentary for the film that isn't bad, it just lacks a little in tone or animation. He discusses the historical context of this film for the actors and director, and provides biographical information on those with the Eastwood stock troupe of actors that appear through the film. He examines the chemistry between characters and how they evolve, and the chemistry shared amongst the ensemble. It is a solid track, nothing mind-blowing. The other extras include "For the Love of Characters" (28:42), a radio interview for the previous French release of the film with Cimino as he talks about his influences, choices in style and photography and other elements of his work not only in this film, but across his filmography. Cimino remains intriguing to me because of his reclusiveness, and his death doesn't shed much new light on him as a creative person, but this piece is a good add to the feature. There are a trailer, TV and radio spots for the film, and trailers for several other Kino releases that star either Eastwood or Bridges.Final Thoughts:
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is far from the best of a pantload of works in the genre, but given you get young Clint Eastwood and younger Jeff Bridges, set against a capable script executed by actors who believe in the work, it proves to be an honest walk through real and fictional Montana. Technically the disc looks great and the supplements are fine, but if you picked up the 2014 Blu-ray, you're double-dipping for the remaster and the commentary, which I think you can get away from doing if you have a contemporary home theater. If you haven't seen the film you should set the time aside for sure.