In the words of the former “good little housewife” turned bad little outlaw Thelma (Geena Davis), "the law is some tricky shit.”
Yet part of the reason that the bigger picture of this quote – 1991's Thelma & Louise – became such a critical and commercial success is because first-time screenwriter Callie Khouri utilized numerous tried-and-true storytelling laws to formulate the structure of the script before reminding us that just like the law, life can be some tricky shit as well with an ending that illustrated this sentiment to a startling degree.
Refusing to let one of her women play second fiddle by keeping them on equal footing as the title promised, Khouri doubled down on Godard's theory that all you needed to make a movie was a girl and a gun. In doing so, she set out to write her own unique female-centric spin on the traditionally testosterone fueled action movie, which in the case of Thelma & Louise can be broken down into three specific subgenres including a road picture, a buddy comedy, and a western.
And indeed as genre dictates, the set-up of the movie is dizzyingly and deceptively simple as the sheltered, passive Thelma and her strong-willed, worldly best friend Louise (Susan Sarandon) find themselves on the run after their intended two day fishing trip goes horribly wrong... mere hours after the two hit the road.
Yet whereas simple movie logic dictates that if we see a gun in the first act then it'll have to go off in the third act, Khouri once again throws us for an audacious loop by letting one of her heroines shoot to kill before we've barely gotten to know them -- immediately throwing us off balance as Louise guns down a cold-blooded rapist who’d assaulted Thelma.
And in doing so, Khouri further breaks with tradition in the depiction of female shooters on film given her bold refusal to avoid the easy way out of making the killing simply black and white. For even after the physical violence stopped, it's ultimately the misogynistic hate in the voice of the attacker that causes Louise to pull the trigger instead of a simple, convenient cliche wherein he would've raised his own weapon, leaving Louise with no alternative but to empty her revolver squarely in his chest.
Understandably fearful that no one would listen to their side of the story since an entire cowboy bar full of witnesses had seen Thelma dancing with the man -- visibly drunk on liquor, freedom and flirtation -- they flee from sight immediately.
Intriguingly however, even though the bullet is fired early on, it isn’t until the last act of the film that the emotional impact of that gun going off is brought to light wherein we finally discover why Louise was so hesitant to go to the police in the first place.
But just because the women vanish, it doesn’t mean that the scene of the crime does as well. As more run-ins with the law follow, we’re constantly aware that one way or another, the law (as embodied by Harvey Keitel) will catch up with them eventually.
Therefore whether it's when the unhappily married Thelma discovers the difference between "wifely duties" and making love (with then-newcomer Brad Pitt) or when the women teach a trucker who’s been sexually harassing them for miles an explosive lesson in manners, even the moments of greatest sexual and/or aggressive abandon are as tinged with melancholy foreboding as they are with surprising humor.
And given the realization that Thelma and Louise need to stand up for themselves in a land where laws aren’t only trickier for womenfolk but also at times require them to wear an allegorical black hat as well as a white one, fittingly master director Ridley Scott’s filmic execution of Khouri’s vision is reminiscent of a ‘70s western.
Augmented by the lensing of cinematographer Adrian Biddle’s alternately welcoming yet foreboding wide open spaces on the women’s journey to Mexico, Scott makes a wise decision indeed to play up the idea of the women as antiheroes in order to try and attempt to hide Khouri’s shortcomings when it comes to her often interchangeably predictable, overly stereotypical male characters.
A hard hurdle to overcome, since the exact same problem pervades in other well-intentioned, somewhat thematically similar movies like North Country, it's hardly a struggle of Khouri's alone.
Unfortunately however, the fact that we’re caught up in the one-dimensionality of a majority of Thelma's exaggerated men detracts from the work's effectiveness somewhat since as the title promises, it's meant to be Thelma and Louise’s story through and through.
Ironically of course, in some ways the movie's success as a film overall (and in changing the way that studios thought about female characters) makes Khouri's flaws far more prevalent today in this its 20th anniversary release.
Nonetheless a groundbreaking triumph from initial concept to final draft in the history of women and film, Thelma memorably garnered Khouri one of just two Best Original Screenplay Oscars to be given to a woman in the ‘90s.
Perfectly sun-drenched to the point where you can actually feel the rays on your skin in a superb Fox high definition transfer, this edition of the contemporary classic is on par with other highly impressive Ridley Scott Blu-ray premieres including the studio's amazingly restored Alien set back in October.
Boasting extra footage and bonus features, the newest release of Thelma & Louise adds in two separate commentary tracks to let you in on how they legally achieved some of the film's “tricky shit" that makes it so iconic.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.
Labels: Blu-ray Review