2/18/2011

Blu-ray Review: Thelma & Louise -- 20th Anniversary Edition (1991)


Now Available to Own






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, the set-up of the movie is – as genre dictates – dizzyingly, 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 to immediately throw 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 traditional female shooters 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 her with no alternative but to empty her revolver squarely in his chest.

However, intriguingly, even though the bullet is fired early on, it isn’t until the last act of the film that the emotional effect 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. Yet 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.

But just because the women vanish, it doesn’t mean that the scene of the crime does as well, especially as more run-ins with the law follow and we’re constantly aware that one way or another, the law (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 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.

For just like the exact same problem that pervades in other well-intentioned, somewhat thematically similar movies like North Country, the fact that we’re caught up in the one-dimensionality of a majority of Thelma's exaggerated men detracts from its effectiveness somewhat since as the title promises, it’s Thelma and Louise’s story through and through.

And ironically in some ways the movie's success as a film overall makes Khouri's flaws far more prevalent, considering the fact that it’s such a groundbreaking work from initial concept to final draft and a landmark achievement in the realm of women in film that, Thelma & Louise changed the way studios thought about female characters. 

Nonetheless, the 20th Anniversary edition of the work that garnered Khouri one of just two Best Original Screenplay Oscars to be given to a woman in the ‘90s, is perfectly sun-drenched to the point where you can actually feel the rays on your skin in a superb Fox high definition transfer.

On par with other highly impressive Ridley Scott Blu-ray premieres including the studio's amazingly restored Alien set back in October, the newest release of Thelma & Louise boasts featurettes, extra footage and two separate commentary tracks to let you in on how they legally achieved some of the “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.