Rolling Thunder (1977)

Rolling Thunder (1977), directed by John Flynn.


I remember that song from when I was alive.

After years as a POW in Vietnam, William Devane has a rough homecoming, although he conceals his rage and unhappiness. He just might be able to make the vast adjustments needed and have a life again. Then his wife has bad news for him. Then we have an unexpected, brutal home invasion, torture, murder and mayhem. The slow, quiet quest for revenge gives his life meaning again. No tormented indecision required: he knows what to do and does it.

A tale of alienation and violence from the veterans' point of view. A cynical look at the 1970s: all the things civilians don't understand, the stupid things you have to say in public, the parades you don't want. On the other hand: the people you can rely on, the ability to handle trouble.

Young Tommy Lee Jones is outstanding as another veteran, expressing so much through a pained but stoic demeanor.

Linda Haynes, last seen in The Nickel Ride (1974), provides fond memories of the bra-less blonde hippie chick. She is so prominent in the middle of the picture that I wonder if the director fell in love with her a little bit.

The pacing is sometimes erratic: even the Major has woman-trouble when on the road. If you think of it as an action picture, the action is sporadic until the big bordello shootout at the end. But it is good at telling the story by showing rather than explaining. When Tommy Lee Jones assembles his shotgun, a prostitute watches in consternation:


She: What the **** are you doing?

He: I'm gonna kill a bunch of people.

Ask a stupid question...

The bordello scene (where all the actors did their own stunts) has sex and nudity was well as gun-play and blood splatter. It shows clearly one of the reasons sex and violence go together in film: the tension before "it" happens.

Many scenes of unlovely Mexican and US border-towns. Screenplay by Paul Schrader, much revised thereafter.

Available on Blu-ray from Shout Factory. Very grainy, particularly in the night scenes. 21m making-of extra.