Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is the story of men in all their complexities. Their desire for money, their desire for women, their desire for stylish clothes. Whether a young man–Jeff Bridges–or an older man–Clint Eastwood–how can any of us truly understand these deep, complex beings.
I wish the film had that level of pretense, but it doesn’t. Writer-director Cimino has a lot of machismo issues to work out and he also wants to draw a lot of attention to Eastwood’s character’s Korean War valor. Is it a commentary on the Vietnam War? It would suggest a deeper level to the film, which is otherwise initially Bridges and Eastwood’s comedic misadventures avoiding George Kennedy, while the second half is Bridges, Eastwood, and Kennedy teaming up to rob a bank. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot’s Eastwood-lite second half is a sequence of questionable sight gag “comedy” and boring car chases. Oh, and the lamest heist sequence ever. Cimino’s direction is all about the Idaho and Montana vistas. He doesn’t pace well, though editor Ferris Webster does no favors.
Frank Stanley’s photography is fine. It’s occasionally too impersonal, but it’s not like a better lighted pool hall was going to fundamentally fix the film. Cimino’s script–and his resulting film–are real shallow. Kennedy’s the closest thing to a full character just because Kennedy has to contend with big contrary actions. Cimino forcefully shoehorns them into the script, complete with dialogue to foreshadow, and Kennedy manages to make them work. No one else is as lucky.
Except maybe Geoffrey Lewis. He’s the film’s comedy relief, someone everyone–Kennedy, Bridges, and Eastwood–can bully. Men like to bully. It makes them men. Bullying and knowing almost nothing about concussions, even though all implied backstory is to the contrary of the latter. Lewis actually works in the background, just because Cimino treats him like scenery. But Lewis stays busy.
Eastwood’s got a nothing character. Initially he’s just running away from Kennedy. Then he teams up with Bridges and they have cinema’s lamest bromance. Cimino forces in some exposition on Bridges, which Bridges delivers in an annoying, obnoxious, insipid fashion. Eastwood gets none. He has no character. He delivers a decent performance nonetheless, apparently able to pretend there’s some depth to not just his character, but the film itself.
And Bridges. As it turns out, Bridges maybe gives the film’s most appropriate performance. He’s doing something, it’s not working, so he just does more of it. Also the perfect description of Cimino and Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.
A weak score from Dee Barton rounds it out. Besides the Montana travelogue, which is gorgeous, a lot of cameos from seventies character actors, and Kennedy’s performance, there’s not much to the film. It needs a better director and a much, much better script.
Written and directed by Michael Cimino; director of photography, Frank Stanley; edited by Ferris Webster; music by Dee Barton; produced by Robert Daley; released by United Artists.
Starring Clint Eastwood (Thunderbolt), Jeff Bridges (Lightfoot), Geoffrey Lewis (Eddie Goody) and George Kennedy (Red Leary).