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Comprehensive reviews of upcoming movies, TV shows and other programs released on standard DVD.

Thelma & Louise: 20th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray Review)

28 Feb, 2011 By: Mike Clark

$19.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for strong language, and for some violence and sensuality.
Stars Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Harvey Keitel, Brad Pitt.

For a movie whose Oscar-winning screenplay is so renowned, this prototypical buddy movie for women has a spectacular visual component that got cinematographer Adrian Biddle a nomination as well. In fact, scripter Callie Khouri says on the hour-long documentary (carried over from the old deluxe DVD release) that she thought about and envisioned the production design every step of the way.

For this reason, I was wondering how the movie’s vistas (which, in later scenes, enter John Ford country) would translate to Blu-ray now that rights to the post-Turner MGM library could be about to change hands again — following a sales history that has watched the modern MGM collection become property of seemingly more owners than that custom-made tailcoat in 1942’s all-star Tales of Manhattan. As a result, the possibility of a mediocre transfer wasn’t an illogical thought to have, but this most atypical Ridley Scott movie looks exactly as I recall it looking from its theatrical release 20 years ago. This was when it made the cover of Time and launched no small controversy over its portrayal of men — to say nothing of the title protagonists’ male revenge (one needn’t necessarily condone it to agree that it is persuasively motivated).

The brouhaha reminded me a little of the one over CBS’s “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” a dozen years earlier. That is, just let one single show deviate from the homogenous company line concerning establishment attitudes everyone was supposed to espouse, and all hell would break loose. In this vein, the documentary quotes some ’91 op-ed type from U.S. News and World Report (why do publications persist in letting people with no film expertise open their mouths about movies?) who lambasted the picture as some sort of serious social malady. I hope he’s reviewing cockfights today.

This isn’t to say that T&L’s tone didn’t throw me just a little as I was enjoying my first view in many years. Whereas Sweet Smell of Success (a cutting-edge movie of its time as well) is all take-it-or-leave it business, the Khouri-Scott treatment sometimes plays to the rafters in ways that seem a tad eager to please. But after my recent viewing, I heard Scott on the documentary saying he regards the film as a comedy, which softened my reservations. And then heard Stephen Tobolowski, who has a small part here as an FBI boss, call it a tragedy. Well, no there’s no law that says a successful movie can’t be both — and truth, to tell, T&L isn’t even as broad as the even better Bonnie & Clyde (a not un-apt comparison, both in subject matter and in the reactionary response).

The picture caught some actors at interesting career junctures. It got Susan Sarandon (Louise) her second Oscar nomination just as she was about to dominate (or come close) the first half of the ‘90s as an actress. Geena Davis (as Thelma, the kind of mild eccentric Davis could always play) had fairly recently taken the supporting Oscar for The Accidental Tourist. Both are splendid and got Oscar nominations, but the revelation today is probably seeing Brad Pitt’s early breakout as the sociopathic drifter/grifter who seduces Thelma out of Louise’s life savings in a motel. All the principals show up in the documentary, and Pitt is quite funny bringing up the perils of being a guy filming a love scene with a good-looking actress and finding that (as he puts it) your “soldier wants to salute.”

The other extras are carried over from the DVD as well, and one of the two commentaries is co-delivered by Scott, who got the first of his three Oscar nominations here. Momentarily leaving aside Gladiator (which never enthused me, though I’ll give another look someday), this fresh T&L viewing didn’t clear up my ongoing perplexity regarding his career. I just can’t reconcile the really good movies he’s made with his (alas, especially lately) really terrible or mediocre ones.

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