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Thunderbolt and Lightfoot


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Year of release
1974

Written by
Michael Cimino

Directed by
Michael Cimino

Starring
Clint Eastwood
Jeff Bridges
George Kennedy
Geoffrey Lewis


Thunderbolt and Lightfoot

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Plot - A chance encounter brings about the meeting of an old bank robber in hiding, Thunderbolt (Eastwood), and a flippant young kid by the name of Lightfoot (Bridges). The two men form a quick bond and decide to hang out together. Constantly on their trails are two former partners of Thunderbolt. Turns out that seven years ago they committed a daring bank robbery but where unable to enjoy their accomplishment, leaving the money hidden in an old school house. Unfortunately the school is no longer around. To try and make up for the loss the four men put aside their differences and plan to rob the exact same bank again

An offbeat little film this. It's a fairly simple little story which is half buddy road movie, and half heist caper movie. It's a highly enjoyable buddy relationship/bromance between Eastwood and Bridges as the film tackles the themes of male bonding and honour among thieves.

Jeff Bridges is just terrific here as Lightfoot; his carefree, swaggering and quipping scoundrel evoking other creations such as Captain Jack Sparrow. The characters enthusiasm is truly infectious and the terrific chemistry he shares with Eastwood feels like it could have inspired many a buddy pic down the road. Eastwood actually gives quite a restrained and quiet performance by his standards, allowing Bridges to steal the limelight and the film. His showing actually felt quite Walter Matthau in style; imbuing his character with a world-weary and hangdog quality, complete with dry, laconic delivery that contrasts beautifully with Bridges' larger than life showing.

Film trivia Michael Cimino modelled the film after his favourite film from the 1950s 1955's Captain Lightfoot. That film followed the adventures of two Irish highwaymen, Captain Thunderbolt and Captain Lightfoot, and their attempts to raise money to support their Irish revolutionary society.
Alongside them in the roles of their partners in crime both George Kennedy and Geoffrey Lewis give nice support with really fun showings with their really quite disparate characters. And the rest of the cast is mostly made up of a series of colourful oddballs who just pop up every so often, the most memorable certainly being Bill McKinney's crazed car driver, but more on him later. There is also a minor role for a young Gary Busey.

The beautiful photography of Frank Stanley makes excellent use of the film's location shooing in Great Falls, Montana. With its immense, sweeping nature it creates the sense of desolation and isolation that seems to permeate the characters on show. Though with Michael Cimino taking quite a lot of time to admire the scenery the pace does feel a touch slow, giving the film the feel of being a touch meandering at times. However the banter between Eastwood and Bridges keeps it immensely likeable throughout..

The film's characters and humour often take on quite a goofy and cartoonish vibe, for me evoking a touch of the Coen brothers style of humour as seen in Raising Arizona, O Brother Where Art Thou, Hudsucker Proxy etc. The two partners who join Eastwood and Bridges in particular are a bit cartoon-like in their creation. Eddie Goody is a rather gentle, really bumbling, nervous simpleton while Red Leary may be a tough, vicious guy but is affected by asthma and hay fever which results in the running joke of him constantly suffering from these allergies and sneezing. And then there are little touches throughout which just add to the offbeat and weird nature of the film; the main surely being the moment where Thunderbolt and Lightfoot receive a lift while hitch-hiking from a redneck who is clearly out of his mind. After the inevitable crash they open the truck's trunk to find it full of rabbits! No don't ask me, I've no idea either!

Film trivia Michael Cimino was given the opportunity to write and direct this film after impressing Eastwood with a rewrite he performed on the script for 1973's Magnum Force. Cimino later said that if it hadn't been for Eastwood, he would never have had a career in the film business. I get the feeling the backers of Heaven's Gate would not exactly be distraught about that prospect!
While there is a fairly breezy, free spirited tone throughout the film there is also a rather elegiac tone running in the veins of the film. And that undertone is born out by a downbeat finale which I found to be genuinely sad and touching. And I may be looking into things too much but I wonder if there is a touch of a Vietnam inspiration in the story. Both Thunderbolt and Leary are ex Korean War heroes and represent the older generation, while Lightfoot is from the aimless younger generation, born out of the hippie movement and the feelings stirred up by Vietnam of the 60s and 70s. And Lightfoot and Leary greatly clash with their different outlooks. And even the ending perhaps mirrors the outcome to Vietnam were a lot of young men died for no damn good reason.

Conclusion So as I said at the start it's really quite a simple story but is populated with interesting characters which are brought to life by a series of winning performances. All resulting in a highly enjoyable, if slightly quirky film.