Obsolete Review: Rolling Thunder

Revenge: A dish best served with a hook

A sweet, deliberate grindhouse revenge movie legendary to worldwide film geeks (crown prince Tarantino named his production company after it), ROLLING THUNDER is also an entertainingly moody and disturbing film, in which returning Vietnam POW Major Charles Rane’s (William Devane) story seems eerily similar to good-ole maverick hero John McCain. (Keep bad-ass aviator shades – add bad-ass hook hand!)

Director John Flynn is a revenge auteur of sorts -- see OUT FOR JUSTICE -- and doesn't hold back here. Writers Paul Schrader (TAXI DRIVER, BLUE COLLAR, etc.) and Heywood Gould (COCKTAIL) spin a tale of a hero USAF aviator and squadron commander returning to his Texas hometown after three years of sub-human captivity in a Vietnam POW camp, leaving him a numb shell of a man whose life has passed him by. His wife informs him nonchalantly on his first night home that she is planning to marry again, taking their son with her. Devane is excellent in showing his acquiescence to his non-life, going through the motions. He attends a ceremony in the small town square, in which a beauty pageant winner (Haynes) presents him with a box of silver dollars for each day he spent prisoner of the enemy, a hollow token paid for a life already spent.

That night, a small gang of local thugs enters the Ranes’ home, led by James Best (best known as deputy Roscoe P. Coltrane from DUKES OF HAZZARD). They want the silver dollars. Ranes won’t give in, so they force his hand into the kitchen sink garbage disposal, then shoot and kill his wife and son in their escape. Ranes is left with nothing but a hook and a need for vengeance, so he recruits the beauty queen waitress to drive him to Mexico. There, using her as bait, he penetrates the underworld to find and punish each thug, eventually pinpointing them to a whorehouse. He enlists his comrade Johnny (Tommy Lee Jones) in El Paso, arms to the teeth and they take bloody retribution.

The movie works as a revenge flick, but watch out (or drink more) because it could just make you think. Schrader’s hollow American hero is in full form here, driven by guilt, loss and regret on his mission to kill the bastards, the only mission left.