Directed and written by Michael Cimino and starring two of the biggest stars the business has ever seen: Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges as the titular characters in this buddy/action/comedy/road movie. This movie refuses to stick to any single genre and transcends its concepts and ideas into many and as such appears as victorious and oddly thrilling. With a first time director at helm and a script that promised a lot, this movie works wonder.
Starting off at a high speed, Clint Eastwood as a preacher is giving a sermon at a church. There he is attacked by a man, from whom he escapes and runs off into the woods with the attacker trailing him. On the other side, Jeff Bridges’ young drifter has stolen a car from a local car dealer and is running away in it. He spots the preacher and the man following him. He swerves and hits the pursuer, killing him. The preacher climbs into the car and there begins the friendship of two men. “What’s your name?” enquires Eastwood’s ‘preacher’. “Lightfoot” replies the young man. “You Indian or something?” asks the preacher. “Nope. Just American.”
The movie is filled with macho bravado and the elements of the buddy genre are all over it. The friendship, the road trip, the motel, everything. But there is another side of the story. The preacher in actuality is a bank robber, made popular by a heist that gave him the name of Thunderbolt. He is being pursued by his old team. Only Thunderbolt knows the location of the money from the last heist. So, he embarks on a journey with Lightfoot, who tells his that he is out there to live and while at it why not make some money out of it. Thunderbolt’s old crew catches up with him and they all start planning a robbery. The second half of the movie is the under taking of the robbery and its aftermath.
The movie plays out like an elaborate storybook. The first half is about the introduction of the characters. The second act is about how they come about to interact with each other. The third act is the finality of their actions.
Eastwood is great in the role of the criminal on the run from his old team. He is smart, calm, calculated and when the time comes: a criminal mastermind. Bridges’ Lightfoot is on the other hand a free spirited man. He is not a criminal as are those with whom he has befriended. There is a scene in which he is visibly afraid of the job he has to do for the robbery. His companions include the fierce Red Leary (George Kennedy) and the simple and goofy driver (Geoffrey Lewis). They successful commit the robbery but things go awry after it.
Praise has to be for Cimino who, as a first timer, was up at the task of handling big names like Eastwood, Bridges and Kennedy. His movie is elaborate, detailed, rich in characters and satisfying for the fans of road movies.
To conclude, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is a great movie from a great decade and marked the growing popularity of the road movies in that era, originally made famous by Easy Rider. It is a must see for any Eastwood fan and they will be surprised how we was upstaged by the then new comer Jeff Bridges.