Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges star in Michael Cimino’s directorial debut. Primarily a heist movie, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot tells the story of a career criminal (Eastwood as John “Thunderbolt” Doherty) and his young protege, (Bridges as Lightfoot), and their attempt at the archetypical “one last job”.
The heist film was very much a popular enterprise, with the likes of The Italian Job (1969) and Peter Yates’ The Hot Rock (1972) inspiring a littered section of the film industry. Where Thunderbolt and Lightfoot differs from the usual suspects is in its tone and humour; at the heart of a conceptually gritty tale (in which one of the main characters is actually killed) lies a whimsical and affable soul. It actually resembles the likes of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid quite deeply, alas with a less ambitious visual aside.
Its surprising to know that Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is the product of famously ambitious (some would say overly-ambitious) filmmaker Michael Cimino, who would later go on to produce the likes of The Deer Hunter and Heavens Gate. The film lacks the sheer scale of his later work, and while that is perhaps a consequence of the fact that its Cimino’s debut picture, the major shift in tone between Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and The Deer Hunter is perhaps even more surprising. In all honesty though, this writer preferred Thunderbolt and Lightfoot a great deal more than the rest of his ouevre.
Whilst its status as a product of its time would never be in doubt, I found at least one line to be incredibly contemporary; the attendant at the gas station seems to pre-empt the fall of general motors by 35 years! The imagery of the “old one room schoolhouse”, the Eldorado of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot if you would, stood beside the iconic statute of the modern, All-American Highway™ serves to remind the viewer, as well as reinforce the notion that Thunderbolt and Lightfoot are a pair of guys operating outside of the time in which they were intended to. They would have been more accustomed to the wilds of old(e), alongide the likes of the aforementioned Butch and Sundance.