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Thunderbolt and Lightfoot Reviews

Before the disastrous HEAVEN'S GATE and YEAR OF THE DRAGON, and before the success of THE DEER HUNTER, intermittently brilliant director Michael Cimino directed his marvelous first film, THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT. Eastwood, whose production company produced the film, had become impressed with Cimino after Cimino coauthored the screenplay for another Eastwood vehicle, MAGNUM FORCE (1973). The film is a crisp, well-written cast caper movie sporting some stunning landscapes and a fine core of performances (Bridges earned an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor). Young drifter Bridges hooks up with ex-thief Eastwood, who has been on the lam from his former partners for several years because they believe he set them up and took off with the loot from a government vault they robbed in Montana. The two remaining members of his gang, Kennedy, a sadistic war buddy of Eastwood, and Lewis, a likable dimwit, are in pursuit of revenge and hot on Eastwood's tail. The thief, therefore, reluctantly strikes up a friendship with Bridges to escape. Bridges admires Eastwood and wants to prove himself worthy of his friendship, so the crazy kid takes part in the dangerous maneuvering. Eventually Kennedy and Lewis corner the pair and prepare to kill them. Eastwood convinces Kennedy he has no idea where the money is (it was hidden behind the blackboard of an old schoolhouse that no longer exists) and their lives are spared. With nothing better to do, Bridges convinces the group it should rob the same vault, the same way, all these years later because no one would suspect another attempt (they shot their way into the vault with a Howitzer cannon). After some elaborate planning, the four men successfully execute the robbery, but their getaway goes awry. THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT is a multifaceted caper film told in fine detail with richly developed characters. Eastwood is nearly overshadowed by Bridges, Kennedy, and Lewis, who brings great depth to his weak-willed, somewhat stupid, character without resorting to cliches. Here, as well as in THE DEER HUNTER, Cimino's main characters--Eastwood and De Niro--seem detached from their peers and unmoved by their environment, until events beyond their control force them to realize what it was they had. It is only then that they experience a melancholy sense of loss. Cimino's first two films succeed because he allows well-drawn characters to affect the audience, not the epic scale of the production. The power of THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT and THE DEER HUNTER stems from their eloquent, complex, honest characters.