Now available in a Blu-ray from Shout! Factory that puts MGM's 2011 burn-on-demand release to utter shame, the film stars William Devane (the POTUS of last summer's The Dark Knight Rises) as Maj. Charles Rane. After spending a grueling seven years as a prisoner of war, he returns home to San Antonio, Texas, to a wife who emotionally has moved on and a child who never knew him.
"I had everything worked out," says Rayne, "but nothing's going the way I planned."
And how! As if learning your spouse's heart now belongs to another man wasn't bad enough, Rayne receives a hero's welcome that feels hollow, despite the chest full of silver dollars he's gifted. Money-hungry thugs led by a sweaty James Best (TV's The Dukes of Hazzard) invade his home, taking not only Rayne's right hand, but the lives of his family.
One hook prosthetic later, Rayne plots revenge. Because he has nothing more to lose, Rolling Thunder plays out like the PTSD-afflicted cousin of Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver; the two films share Paul Schrader as screenwriter.
Director John Flynn (The Outfit), the crime drama is gripping, compelling and just a bit well, twisted. (No wonder Quentin Tarantino borrowed the title when naming his cult-flick distribution company.) Devane delivers one hell of a performance as the broken soldier, simmering toward madness in a well-meaning hometown in which he no longer fits. While known mostly for his work on the tube (spending a decade on TV's Knots Landing will do that to a guy), Devane is severely underrated, which this long-overdue release reveals.
Promo material aside, the only extra finds Devane, Schrader and co-star Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln) sitting down for a new, 21-minute retrospective. It's notable less for any information revealed and more for the unruly, white nasal hairs of co-scripter Heywood Gould. Rod Lott
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