Friday, November 12, 2010

Thelma & Louise (1991)

USA/France, 130 minutes
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: Callie Khouri
Photography: Adrian Biddle
Editor: Thom Noble
Cast: Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, Christopher McDonald, Stephen Tobolowsky, Brad Pitt, Timothy Carhart, Lucinda Jenney

Here's one that actually seemed to me even better than I recalled, a fine epic road movie based out of Arkansas that switches up on gender and illuminates a world—admittedly, with overly broad strokes and taking aim at every easy target it can think of—that half of us don't understand nearly well enough. Thelma, played by Geena Davis, is a young housewife with a ridiculous petty tyrant lout for a husband, a carpet salesman and a perfect fool and a philanderer too (!) who dictates everything she can and cannot do. Louise, played by Susan Sarandon, is a flinty waitress in a foo foo uniform who chain smokes, swears a lot, and has a red-hot temper. They treat themselves to a rare weekend getaway to the mountains, Thelma climbing out on a limb and doing so without her husband's permission. When they stop on the way for drinks and dinner at a loud roadhouse the troubles begin: Thelma connects with yet another lout, Harlan (played with bottomless creepy menace by Timothy Carhart), lets him get her drunk even as they kick up their heels on the dance floor, and before long he has taken her out to his car in the parking lot where he begins to assault her. Enter Louise, who has a gun and uses it to liberate Thelma from the situation. But Harlan, in his fuming impotence, makes one foul-mouthed remark too many, and Louise loses it and shoots him dead. The girls hightail it out of there, turning fugitive and heading for Mexico by way of Oklahoma City. From that point the road movie is on, with cars zooming down highways, swooping tracking shots from helicopters, eerily beautiful shots of the Arizona desert at night, and police lights flashing in sweltering heat. With little to tie them to the murder they have time to act on their plan to make it to Mexico, but fate is not about to smile on them kindly in this movie. Down the road, most of the ways that a man can do a woman wrong make their appearances. It gets hard to watch at many points, such as when Thelma keeps letting herself be drawn to a shifty hitchhiker, J.D. (played by Brad Pitt, smug as usual), but that's just the narrative tension working—like "I Love Lucy," mixing up dread and horror until we are as unwilling to look as we are unwilling to look away. A good many set pieces are scattered along the way—for all his many various and legion faults, Ridley Scott does know how to put together a movie. My favorite was a hold-up scene captured in the grainy black & white of an in-store camera video, seen from the comical point of view of the authorities in pursuit of them in the company of Thelma's husband. The ending is suitably desperate and not, I think, all that cheap or easy (though you could probably argue it the other way too), harking in an almost unbearable way to a scene that ended better in another buddy movie of outlaws on the lam, this one more the traditional purview of males, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid.

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