Reviews

'Thelma and Louise': Still the Coolest Girls to Ever Drive a T-Bird

Twenty years old this year, Thelma and Louise is not just a classic, but the ultimate road map for breaking the rules.


Thelma and Louise

Blu Ray: Thelma and Louise
Director: Ridley Scott
Distributor: MGM
Rated: R
Cast: Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Harvey Keitel, Brad Pitt
Release Date: 2010-02-08

Though it is not a perfect movie, Thelma and Louise has perfect moments. When the film was released in 1991, it was hailed as something new: a road movie for women, one in which the gals drink, curse, have sex and rob banks like the outlaws they become. Twenty years ago, Thelma and Louise was surprising, fresh and poignant. For a new generation of viewers the film is still relevant, due in large part to the timeless performances of its stars, Geena Davis (Thelma) and Susan Sarandon (Louise).

For the uninitiated, Thelma and Louise begins with two women leaving their small Arkansas town for a weekend in the mountains. En route they stop at a honky tonk roadhouse for margaritas, line dancing, and a fatal run-in with Thelma’s would-be rapist, Harlan (Timothy Carhart). Louise shoots and kills Harlan, (after Thelma is out of harm’s way) and decides not to go to the police. Thelma and Louise find themselves cast as reluctant but remarkably capable fugitives on the run from the law (personified in nice-guy cop Hal Slocumb, played by Harvey Keitel).

Like many great American movies, Thelma and Louise takes place in the wide-open spaces, sagebrush fields and red canyons of the southwest. Director Ridley Scott and cinematographer Adrian Biddle use the lonely two-lane highways, vintage gas stations, and sienna mesas as the so-pretty-it’s-distracting backdrop to an epic road adventure. Thelma and Louise feels like a latter day fairytale, one in which the West is still untamed and it’s possible to hightail it south of the border, meeting devastatingly handsome hitchhikers along the way. (Brad Pitt in an early role as the best looking drifter you ever saw.)

The Blu Ray cut of the film is nothing short of gorgeous, showcasing Sarandon, Davis and the landscape in warm, sun-baked light. Thelma and Louise both become much more beautiful and rugged as the film progresses—their inner transformations are mirrored by dusty, freckled faces devoid of any lipstick traces. They become endowed with steely, self assured demeanor, like when they blasély blow a misogynistic trucker’s rig away, or knock back wild turkey while speeding along at 110mph. Wearing torn faded denim and dirty white shirts they are Amazons of the open road.

The flip side of sharp, high definition Blu Ray is that everything is more obvious, including flaws. Scott makes the unfortunate choice to include rain in several scenes when the police are tracking the girls from Arkansas. The rain is embarrassingly fake—it’s movie studio rain, falling in densely improbable sheets while the sun shines further down the street, not 30 yards away. When Thelma and Louise drive through Arches National Park in Utah at night, the towering rock edifices are fully lit, as though by spotlights, which they probably really were. It’s a gorgeous sequence, and one can understand the temptation to highlight the rocks, but it takes us out of the story and reminds us that this is just a movie. Still, Scott deserves credit for handling the material well overall. He brigs tension and suspense to the story-- this is Ridley Scott after all, killer action scenes are a given -- Thelma and Louise’s final run from the police in particular is frantic and exhilarating.

Callie Khouri’s groundbreaking script is an ideal foil for Davis and Sarandon, perfectly paired as very different women who are best friends. While some of the major events in the story can feel implausible (Thelma and Louise decide not to go to go to the police after shooting Harlan, all within the space of ten minutes? Seriously?) the dialogue between the actors never feels false. Case in point: Thelma: “I know it's crazy, but I just feel like I got a knack for this shit.” Louise: “I believe you do.”

The performances of, and more importantly, the chemistry between Sarandon and Davis is the main reason Thelma and Louise is so emotionally gripping and memorable. We believe right from the moment that Thelma heaves her bulging floral suitcase into the trunk of Louise’s turquoise, 1966 Thunderbird that these women are really friends, they’ve known each other forever, and each is brave enough to take off like a desperado, but not without the other.

In the years since Thelma and Louise, Sarandon has remained the more successful and talented actor of the two. It's Louise that I’ve always wanted to be like: independent, sassy and whip smart. But Thelma and Louise is Davis’s (and Thelma’s) movie. It's Thelma who undergoes the more drastic metamorphosis from ditzy, demure housewife (“You want anything special for dinner?”) to sharp-shootin’ smooth talkin’ criminal (“I’ve had it up to my ass with sedate”). Davis captures our attention in part due to Thelma’s arc, which is more dramatic than Louise’s. Meek and unsure in the beginning, Thelma that has further to go. But Davis makes this whirlwind transformation grounded and genuine, even when it is surprising. Somehow, we believe that this despondent housewife blossoms into a cowgirl holding up convenience stores in less than 72 hours. It's Thelma that ends the film with a crazy suggestion, a spur of the moment suicide pact that somehow makes sense, even to those of us on the other side of the screen.

The Blu Ray edition of the film is a rich transfer, and has none of the weird sound synching issues other Blu Rays have been prone to. Brad Pitt looks even sexier in HD than he did in 1991, if that’s possible. Special features include a commentary with Scott, and a separate commentary with Sarandon, Davis, and Khouri. An included making-of-featurette has modern-day interviews with the actors, Scott and Khouri. Nothing new here, but an interesting retrospective.

9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image