Thelma (Geena Davis) is the neglected wife of a rug salesman and Louise (Susan Sarandon) works as a waitress at a diner. They head off together for a couple of days and decide to let their hair down. Thelma’s naivety, coupled with the predatory instincts of a particularly unpleasant and dangerous patron at the bar they stop off at, results in her almost being raped before Louise shoots him dead in the parking lot. Convinced that they won’t be believed by the police, Louise suggests they go on the run, eventually deciding to head for Mexico. As they make their way through the US Deep South and the authorities close in, Thelma and Louise get themselves into more and more trouble and it seems less and less likely that they will be able to escape to freedom.
After a barn-storming one-two with Alien and Blade Runner in the late 1970s and early 1980s, director Ridley Scott went off the boil a little, with far less well-regarded efforts like Legend and Someone To Watch Over Me occupying his time in the mid-1980s before something more closely resembling a return to form with Black Rain. After that came Thelma & Louise, a big departure for Scott stylistically, but a clear demonstration of his mastery of the medium of cinema, regardless of the genre.
At once a road movie, a crime caper and a tract for female empowerment and self-actualisation, Thelma & Louise holds up exceedingly well more than two decades on from its original release. Geena Davis’s Thelma undoubtedly covers more ground in terms of her character arc, but Sarandon’s Louise is by far the more compelling; hidden depths of anger, frustration, and a painful past forever simmering beneath the surface of her otherwise forceful and propulsive exterior.
Scott has filmed something quite beautiful and affecting here. Although the exteriors were almost entirely shot in and around Los Angeles (to keep the budget trim), there is a wonderful sense of the open expanses of Arkansas and Oklahoma and the Grand Canyon-set finale is a wonder to behold. This is not merely a feast for the eyes. Although credit is due to Callie Khouri for a wonderful (and Oscar-winning) screenplay, excellent work is drawn out of Davis and Sarandon by Scott. At times Thelma can be annoying in her child-like foolishness, but she finds previously untapped steel towards the end of the film and if nothing else therefore feels like a flesh and blood character rather than a caricature. The suspicion remains that the fact that both were nominated for Oscars resulted in a split vote and both of them losing out to the (admittedly deserving) winner Jodie Foster for Silence of the Lambs. Sarandon would go on to better roles with Dead Man Walking, but Geena Davis hasn’t come close to being this good before or since.
Aside from the principals and the beautiful cinematography (crisply upgraded for this HD release, but still retaining the dust and sweat that form an essential part of its atmosphere) there is much else to enjoy. Harvey Keitel leads the police pursuit of the women and convincingly conveys his desperation that they be brought in unharmed, convinced that the full story of the shooting of the bar patron (a disturbingly but compellingly sleazy Timothy Carhart) will exonerate them, but ultimately unable to help them. The pacing is great, the running time of a fraction over two hours giving the story and characters room to breathe and convincingly develop, without dragging things out and the supporting cast all perform at the highest level. Brad Pitt made his name as the drifter who shows Thelma “what all the fuss is about”, but just as much kudos should go to Michael Madsen as Louise’s partner, who just wants to help her and be with her and Christopher McDonald as Thelma’s ridiculous but hilarious husband (“Wha??? Wha???”, “you’re standing in your pizza”).
Very funny when it wants and needs to be, with a genuine sense of danger, peril, joy, self-discovery and sadness throughout, this is film-making from the top-drawer and thoroughly worth seeking out if you haven’t seen it yet or if, as was the case with me, it has been a while.
Extras: As you would expect from a Blu-ray re-issue, there is a lot here, though there is the nagging suspicion that none of these are any more recent than the 10-year-old DVD release:-
- Ridley Scott Commentary – He explains his own background in film in some detail and goes on to talk engagingly (and quickly) about the film, only pausing for breath after 20 or so minutes. There is a lot of very interesting information here, even if the chat-track is a decade old.
- Davis/Sarandon/Khouri Commentary – there is an excellent rapport between the three of them and some different insights from Khouri who was both script-writer and co-producer. Davis and Sarandon both have fond and clear memories of the film and are able to flesh out a lot of the production back-story.
- Thelma & Louise: The Last Journey – Hour-long making of, containing the whole story of pre-production, shooting, release and critical reception, including the fact that Jodie Foster and Michelle Pfeiffer were at one point looking to star and also that the film was absurdly lambasted in some quarters on its release for its portrayal of women. It is an issue that is given plenty of intelligent consideration by all concerned.
- Extended & Deleted Scenes – 40 minutes of rightly excised material
- Original Featurette – fairly redundant 5-minute fluff piece
- Extended Ending with Ridley Scott Commentary – this is very interesting, with Scott convincingly arguing for the ending used and showing the choices that were and could have been made
- Multi-angle storyboards re: the final scene
- Music Video – “Part of you, part of me” by Glenn Frey
- Trailers and TV Spots