Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Rolling Thunder

Oh, so it's a movie about a guy with seven right arms?
While I was not alive during the Vietnam War, it is my understanding that it was a pretty glamorous time to be an American soldier.  From all the movies I've seen, 'Nam was a tropical wonderland with a clearly defined enemy and every drink came with a little bamboo umbrella in it.  Better yet, when soldiers returned home, there was unified and total support for the veterans.  And being a prisoner of war (POW) was even better; that's why Chuck Norris made those Missing in Action comedies in the 80s.

Yes, the life of a Vietnam POW was pretty sweet.  When Major Charles Rane (William Devane), along with his compatriot Sergeant First Class Johnny Vohden (Tommy Lee Jones), returns to his small town in Texas after being tortured daily, he gets a parade.  Well, hot dog!  He is also given a Cadillac and a silver dollar for every day he was away, which amounts to over two thousand dollars.  Sure, he has frequent flashbacks, his wife has left him for a friend, and his son doesn't remember him, but two grand in 1973 dollars is like, forty jillion bucks!  Rane doesn't take to civilian life gracefully; he's socially awkward and has nothing to offer in conversation ("I don't mind the lashings, but waterboarding gets old fast...").  Instead of easing back into his old habits, he maintains his POW regiment of physical training and sparse living arrangements.  It's a good thing that he doesn't immediately go soft, because four armed men show up at his home, looking to rob him of his two thousand dollars.  Rane's a bad ass, so he doesn't tell them a thing and they punish him by sticking his right hand down the garbage disposal.  Gross.  And he still doesn't tell them anything, which is awesome.  But then, his not-really wife and sniveling son come home, the kid gives up the hiding place for the cash, and everybody gets shot.  Wifey and kiddo die, but Rane survives, minus a hand but plus a hook.  The rest of the movie is about a man on a mission to punish those that hurt his family.  And that man has a hook for a hand.
I wonder why he's not wearing short sleeves in the summer?

What can I say about the acting in this movie?  This is a revenge movie, pure and simple, and it was made in 1977.  It's not quite a B-movie, but it's pretty close.  Heck, it even has an actress from Coffy.  William Devane turns in a simple, but effective performance as a man of few words but decisive actions.  He's at his best after his family dies and he doesn't have to convey more emotions than just anger, but he's really good at being a tough jerk.  Tommy Lee Jones plays the traditional TLJ role, a straight-faced, no-nonsense tough guy.  My favorite scenes in the movie belong to Jones.  One scene has him listening to the inane chatter of his relatives with dead eyes and the other has him explaining to an innocent bystander that he's going to try to kill a lot of people.  The rest of the cast is pretty forgettable.  Director John Flynn tells this crime story quickly and without adding nuisances like emotion or character depth.  It is what it is, and that's a revenge flick.

Now, I know what you're thinking...two thousand dollars split four ways is worth a double homicide and attempted murder rap?  Apparently so.  The value of this movie is not found in the script or the plot or the extremely unconvincing romance between Devane and Linda Haynes.  No, this movie is surprisingly entertaining thanks to just how basic it is.  Somebody kills your family?  Don't cry about it, wuss.  Murder the hell out of them.  Here's an actual exchange from the film:
Major Charles Rane: I found them.  The men who killed my son.
Sergeant First Class Johnny Vohden: I'll just get my gear.
That's it.  No questions, no boring arguments about calling the police, or whining about murdering people.  These two have a bromance that is beyond compassion and feelings --- they're in love...with death!  And that's kind of awesome.  This is definitely not for everyone, but if you like low-budget tough-guy movies, this is a fun one.

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