MGM // 1991 // 129 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // February 14th, 2011
Somebody said get a life...so they did.
"I swear, three days ago neither one of us would've ever pulled a stunt like this, but if you'd ever meet my husband you'd understand why."
Thelma (Geena Davis, The Long Kiss Goodnight) is a housewife trapped in a loveless marriage with an unappreciative husband (Christopher McDonald, Requiem for a Dream). Louise (Susan Sarandon, Bull Durham) spends her days toiling away in an unsatisfying job as a waitress. More than ready to get away for a while, Thelma and Louise decide to take a road trip and spend a weekend in the mountains. Unfortunately, an incident occurs on the way there: a greasy pervert (Timothy Carhart, Witness) attempts to rape Thelma, and Louise shoots and kills him in response. Suddenly, the two women find themselves on the run, attempting to make it to the Mexico border before a curious police investigator (Harvey Keitel, Bad Lieutenant) catches up with them. Will Thelma and Louise find their freedom?
Ridley Scott has made some terrific films over the course of his career (Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, Matchstick Men), but for whatever reason Thelma & Louise often tends to get left off the list of his most significant achievements. That shouldn't be the case, but perhaps the reason is that it feels so vastly different from everything else on Scott's resume. There is a level of raw emotion and an understanding of human character in this film that isn't found in most of Scott's work, and a considerable amount of social commentary and nuance lying beneath the film's glossy action-movie exterior. What a terrific film this is.
Thelma & Louise isn't so much a story about two women running from the law as it is a story about two women running from their lives. They've both been treated badly by men in a society which too often encourages the notion that women are inferior beings and not to be granted the same level of respect as men. All their lives, Thelma and Louise have tried to work within the system and make the best of it, settling for a mediocre existence. In all likelihood, the pair would have continued down this path to the end were it not for the violent incident that occurs. The shooting forces Thelma and Louise to abandon their old lives, and suddenly they are thrilled at the realization that they have a chance to leave all their baggage behind and start over again.
One of the great virtues of Thelma & Louise is that this story of personal redemption is not presented as a solemn, Oscar-bait sermon (though it did receive quite a few Oscar nods and even won Best Original Screenplay), but rather as a giddy thriller complete with explosions and car chases. Scott and writer Callie Khouri cleverly tie the duo's self-liberation with cinematic fun, making the journey all the more infectiously grin-inducing. Consider a scene in which Thelma and Louise encounter a sexist trucker; a scene that climaxes with a massive explosion. The scene is one of the most significant moments of self-assertion for the characters, but by associating this moment with one of the film's most blatant popcorn-movie thrills, the filmmakers enhance the audience's enjoyment of that moment. The movie does this over and over again (often in considerably subtler ways), allowing us to better appreciate the characters' sense of joyous self-discovery.
However, a huge part of why Thelma & Louise works as well is it does is that Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon are simply sublime as the title characters. Davis brings so much enthusiasm to the table, displaying a lust for life that makes the moments in which she is beaten down all the more infuriating. I love Davis' facial expressions in the film: the moment in which she pants like an eager puppy upon seeing a handsome hitchhiker (Brad Pitt, Legends of the Fall), or the look of barely-contained glee the morning after a particularly satisfying night with the same. Sarandon's performance is less showy but equally impressive; a detailed and persuasive portrait of a woman who's working hard to keep a lot of dark things buried. What a great actress she is.
The male supporting cast is pretty impressive too, led by a touchingly sensitive turn from Harvey Keitel as the police investigator who deeply empathizes with the plight of the lead characters. That isn't going to stop him from doing his job, but he seems to be the only one who really understands why Thelma and Louise are running (and more specifically, what they're running from). Brad Pitt is almost impossibly charming in his breakout performance as the hitchhiker; it's easy to see why this was a star-making turn for the actor. Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs) rides the line between gruff sensitivity and threatening menace impressively; it takes us a while to figure out what to make of him. Christopher McDonald is more or less playing a cartoon character, but he has some amusing moments (one of the funniest scenes in the film involves McDonald's attempt to persuade Thelma that he doesn't know the cops are looking for her).
The film's final reel is nothing short of breathtaking, as the filmmakers raise their game and present the final chase with a level of operatic beauty. The desert imagery (captured superbly by cinematographer Adrian Biddle) is excellent, Hans Zimmer's bluesy score hits new heights and Scott delivers one killer moment after another. While I think the transition from the final shot to the end credits montage to the country song that plays afterwards is a little awkward, the emotional power of the film's famous conclusion is still immensely strong.
I'm pleased to report that Thelma & Louise has received a top-drawer 1080p/2.35:1 transfer, which is just about as remarkable as one could hope for given that the film is twenty years old. The level of detail is terrific, depth is very impressive, shadow delineation is strong and flesh tones are warm and natural. This is quite a robust film and it looks as vibrant as it should in hi-def. There's a faint level of natural grain intact and no significant evidence of artificial tampering. The audio is also quality, with the vast selection of twangy songs and Zimmer's score getting mixed in pretty aggressively. Dialogue is clean and clear; the action scenes are well-mixed but don't really give your speakers much of a workout. Again, the mix is considerably stronger than you would expect for a film of this age. Special features are recycled from the DVD: two commentary tracks (one with Scott, another with Sarandon, Davis and Khouri), an hour-long making-of documentary entitled "Thelma and Louise: The Last Journey," a vintage featurette (5 minutes), 40 minutes of deleted and extended scenes, an extended ending, some multi-angle storyboards, a music video and a trailer. An impressive package; even if we don't get anything new.
Twenty years after its initial release, Thelma & Louise is still a terrific movie. Offering an excellent transfer, strong sound, a reasonable price point and recycling a generous supplemental package, this Blu-ray release is more than worth an upgrade.
Review content copyright © 2011 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 129 Minutes
Release Year: 1991
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Extended Ending
* Deleted/Extended Scenes
* Music Video