As much an eccentric character study as a road movie, Michael Cimino’s directorial debut follows the adventures of a quartet of misfits in their life of crime. Retired thief Thunderbolt (Clint Eastwood) and sweet drifter Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges) meet cute when Thunderbolt jumps into Lightfoot’s stolen car to escape a gunman. The pair embarks on an oddball journey to get Thunderbolt’s loot from an old robbery before his former associates, the sadistic Red (George Kennedy) and cretinous Goody (Geoffrey Lewis), get to it first, but all four are too late; the one-room schoolhouse hiding place has apparently vanished. So instead, the four play house and work legit jobs while they plot to rob the same place Thunderbolt and Red hit before. Although the plan goes awry, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot discover that they may still have succeeded-or so they think. As the easy-going mediator between the two, Eastwood’s Thunderbolt was a move away from his tough cop-westerner image; his audience accepted this then-atypical performance enough to turn Thunderbolt and Lightfoot into a moderate hit. Bridges received his second Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, but Cimino turned down a subsequent deal with Eastwood, moving instead to his artistic peak with The Deer Hunter (1978) and career nadir with Heaven’s Gate (1980). ~ Lucia Bozzola, All Movie Guid
Michael Cimino studied architecture and dramatic arts from Yale; later he filmed advertisements and documentaries and also wrote scripts until the actor, producer and director, Clint Eastwood gave him the opportunity to direct the thriller Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974). But his biggest success was The Deer Hunter (1978) which won the Oscar for the Best Film. For another successful film he got in trouble: The Sicilian (1987) – critics accused him of portraying as a hero, with his biography, the Italian criminal Salvatore Giuliano. —IMDb
What makes Cimino arguably the greatest American filmmaker post-Ford is his intimate feel for America itself, its landscapes and people. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, like all Cimino films, is a product of post-Vietnam America, a direct confrontation with perhaps the greatest moral and spiritual blow in the nation's history. What seems a delightful buddy adventure slows peels away into a tragedy, not operatic, but instead emanating from the expanses of the Northwest. The youthful criminal dies quietly while the aging Eastwood lives on, his sins persisting, failing to properly watch over and guide his ward. So serenely melancholic it registers on an intuitive level, rather than a didactic one.
Well, Mr. Lehtonen, I'd say that Mr. Cimino more than anything seems to be avoiding the problem of post-Vietnam America, to be looking backwards to an imagined, pre-Vietnam paradise America. THUNDERBOLT is undeniably his best film; the rest often feel like he is hitting pressure points. Hard to quantify but there is something squirrely and awful about these films.
In our annual poll, we pair our favorite new films of 2012 with older films seen in the same year to create fantastic double features.