More noise than signal

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

The unusually named film sees a young tea leaf tearing out of a car showroom in a half inched motor. This is Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges), solving half of the film’s naming conundrum. He soon picks up what seems to be a preacher running away from an assassin, but who in the fullness of time is revealed as a notorious bank robber nicknamed Thunderbolt (Clint Eastwood), thus solving our paragraph long national nightmare of why this film is named the way it is.

Thunderbolt’s been hiding out as his former gang members are hunting him down, wrongly convinced that he’s swindled them out of their cut, although frankly explaining why they’re wrong would take more time than would be worth.

The initial stages of the film have Lightfoot and Thunderbolt, and boy do these character names not get less annoying to say the further on this goes, running from the gang members tracking them down, Red Leary (George Kennedy) and the Eddie Goody (Geoffrey Lewis), in something that’s halfway between a chase movie and a road trip. This pivots somewhat abruptly once Red and Eddie corner our protagonists, once Thunderbolt convinces them that he hadn’t double crossed them and Lightfoot suggests a repeat (more or less) performance of their previous heist.

Red and Eddie agree after a bit of arm twisting, but there’s always a question of whether they all really trust one another, leading to the inevitable double crosses and some tone-destroyingly grizzly or plain sad ends for a film that’s been a lighthearted knockabout caper, at least until the final reel.

That said, the severe tonal whiplash towards the end is the only thing that sticks out in Cimino’s debut directorial feature as an outright misstep. The story is on the thin side, but serviceable, but I’d probably be singing a different tune if Eastwood and Bridges weren’t in the central roles as an awful lot of this movie is coasting by on their charisma alone to fill out some narrative minimalism.

As first films go, it’s a pretty solid and enjoyable effort. It’s not, however, one that demands viewing from a historical perspective, but it’s an enjoyable diversion should you stumble upon it.