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1973, Major Charles Rane (William Devane) returns home with his friend, Sergeant Johnny Vohden (Tommy Lee Jones), after spending seven years at a prisoner of war camp in Hanoi. He soon discovers his life back home has moved on in the time he was away, with his wife getting remarried and taking Charles’s son away from him.

 Rolling Thunder
With his hometown eager to give the Major a hero’s homecoming he is presented with a red Cadillac and 2555 silver dollars, one for every day he was a captive plus one for luck. Not long after, a gang of criminals arrive at Charles’s home demanding the dollars for themselves and their attempt to torture the coins' location out of Charles fails, the gang turn on the Major’s wife and child, shooting them in their home and leaving Charles for dead with one hand mangled in the garbage disposal.

Waking up in hospital and now with a prosthetic hook on his damaged arm, Charles makes his way to Mexico with new friend Linda Forchet (Linda Haynes) but she soon discovers this isn’t a romantic getaway, this is revenge and Charles is out to find his family's murderers.

Up until sitting down to watch this review disc I’d never seen Rolling Thunder. I’d heard big things about it, such as Quentin Tarantino’s admiration of the film, so going in I was quite looking forward to seeing what the fuss was about. Straight off the bat this is fairly typical stuff. Cold, calm Vietnam veterans unable to slot back into their lives and a slow understanding of what happened to them while they were captives.

 Rolling Thunder
William Devane plays it very well with his friendly accent and his distance to the world around him is felt. The attack on him in his home is played out well and even his cold response to his family’s murder generates an odd feeling towards where this might go next.
Unfortunately where it does go next is a mixed bag for me. Charles’s cold, calm response to his attack is very slick and when his first real bit of revenge on his attackers turns into a messy bar fight as opposed to a straight forward kill, the character’s unstoppable hook handed force suddenly becomes more vulnerable, which makes the later part of the film feel more like a trip into the unknown as opposed to a paint by numbers revenge flick.

However in amongst this interesting set up, tag-along Linda Forchet started to annoy me. Many of the scenes with the quiet Charles are filled with her talking about something or other and I just didn’t like the character or most of the scenes she was in. Honestly him ditching her and heading off to finish his mission was a breath of fresh air and when a young Tommy Lee Jones joins the campaign we’re off to the epic finale.

Most of the movie stays relatively mild in terms of the graphic depictions of violence. The shootings are generally only bursts of blood on clothes and the hand in the garbage disposal scene is all out of frame, making the brutality of everything seem quite tame by today’s standards. However the climactic final scenes bring it all up a notch. Nudity, plenty of blood and random shootings galore bring Rolling Thunder to a thunderous end and while I felt a little set adrift from the movie about midway through as it wandered around relatively aimlessly, the end was satisfying enough to make this a cult classic I can see the appeal of.

 Rolling Thunder

Video


So with the variations on how old films with a cult following are handled taken into account, Rolling Thunder is both mildly impressive while also being quite typical of the just about cleaned up approach to HD upgrades. The opening credits are nicely coloured with plenty of red white and blues for the returning soldiers but the image is full of grain and artefacts and that yellow font makes this feel quite reminisant of a Fall Guy episode or other 70s/80s TV shows.

With the opening credits behind us, the veil of grain is lifted for the most part. The blue and green army uniforms are full of variation and the red of the patches sewn on the arms and chest pop off the screen. Darker scenes can show a bit of grubbiness in the shadowy elements of the frame but generally textures and details are quite rich, especailly considering the age of the film.

The entire presentation has a natural brightness to it, the largely sunlit exteriors really hold up very well with colours that can seem a little pale but often come with a nice pop to them. The interior scenes have some strong colours for the most part and look surprisingly good in the HD upgrade but there's no escaping the film's age in some scenes, namely the hospital stuff and the motel room scenes as seen in some of these screen caps. Rolling Thunder certainly gets a satisfying HD release (especially when you compare it to the state of the trailers on the extra features) but even though the clean up is strong for the most part the print keeps on reminding us of its age.

 Rolling Thunder

Audio


The audio feels tiny when compared to what we've become used to in modern filmmaking but being a mono track there's no real escaping that. The audio feels confined from the very first line of dialogue and never really improves in any other areas really.

Sticking with the dialogue, it is consistently low in volume and if a sound effect, such as a plane engine chips in to a scene it can feel slightly lost and distant. William Devane's voice can sound a little muffled in smaller scenes and the odd supporting character can mumble their way through scenes. Same can be said for sound effects for the most part and even though the score gets an occasional rise it's not exactly full of power, even if the odd song on the soundtrack has a good strong sound.

Despite the characters' speaking, ambience, music and sound effects all doing their jobs well enough, the mono mix stops any individual element from really showing off. It's a clear, sometimes crisp track with some scenes doing better jobs than others but its limitations are felt throughout.

 Rolling Thunder

Extras


The commentary track is simply okay. It’s a very simple Q&A style affair really, with Roy Frumkes posing questions to co-screenwriter Heywood Gould with Gould replying with pretty to the point answers that rarely go off track or offer up much in the way of personality. Sure it provides a lot of information but somehow the track feels rather flat and not really personal enough to the making of the movie in the end.

The interview with Linda Haynes (10:29 HD) is a personal discussion with the actress with a nice overview of her career and it features non-HD clips from the film which really do show the improvements made on this Blu-ray presentation.

The original theatrical trailer comes with commentary from Eli Roth (02:21 SD) (as well as an introduction from him). The short commentary gives us a nice history of the film as well as covering the plot. The quality of the trailer is proper ropey and once again shows just how much of a step up this release is.

Lastly we have the original theatrical trailer (02:06) and TV spot  (00:34).

 Rolling Thunder

Overall


While Rolling Thunder ticks all the right boxes for a revenge flick and plays by its own set of rules when it comes to pay off, it's a film that feels limited to me. The graphic nature of the attacks aren't all that strong and the whole hook hand visual on the posters is barely used in the grand scheme of things. Arguably this is what makes Rolling Thunder a little different and gives it a rawer edge but the middle act feels untidy to me and I was hoping for much more from this one. The disc's clean up is about as good as to be expected from a film of its low key status and the mono track won't please all. The extras, like the presentation, are just about there in terms of quality. There's a lot for a fan of the film but not really enough to give a thorough insight into the film's history.


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