Thelma & Louise (Blu-Ray)

How do you know when a movie has struck a nerve?  Is it when it shows up on the cover of Time magazine?  When it gets its first Simpsons reference?  When it’s used as an answer on Jeopardy!?  Or when it seems like everyone – your friends, your coworkers, the editor of your local newspaper – seems to have an opinion on it regardless of whether they’ve seen it or not?

Because by any metric you care to use, THELMA & LOUISE qualifies.  And I’m very happy to report that twenty years have done little to dim the movie’s ability to get people talking.

Susan Sarandon in Thelma & Louise

Thelma Dickinson (Geena Davis) and Louise Sawyer (Susan Sarandon) are best friends, small-town women slinging hash in an Arkansas diner.  Thelma is chirpy and well-meaning but impatient, impulsive, and naive, while Louise is capable, wise, and world-weary.  Thelma is also being slowly stifled at home by her increasingly erratic, domineering husband (Christopher McDonald) and this seems to have something to do with why Louise gently but firmly encourages Thelma to accompany her on a weekend road trip to a friend’s mountain cabin.  But at a stopover at a rowdy honky-tonk bar, things go wrong, a would-be rapist is shot dead and the two women find their lives gradually unraveling as the law hounds them from the Ozarks to the Grand Canyon.

Brad Pitt and Geena Davis in Thelma & Louise

That sounds like the setup for a serious tragedy, and in many ways, it is.  And yet THELMA & LOUISE is one of the funniest, most energetic movies I’ve seen in years, standing as a lesson to any would-be filmmakers that ofttimes your subject matter isn’t nearly as important as what you do with it.  A lot of credit for this goes to Geena Davis – Oscar winner, world-class athlete, and MENSA member –  who creates in Thelma a character that is so achingly loveable, so gleefully mischievous yet lacking in guile or malice, that she lends a sense of fun and joy to scenes that in lesser hands would merely be straight-faced and serious.

Davis is backed by a genuinely remarkable supporting cast, full of faces likely to make movie buffs lean forward in their seats with recognition.  A then-unknown by the name of Brad Pitt has a scorching turn as a shady hitchhiker Thelma falls hard for.  Harvey Keitel, as Arkansas Detective Hal Slocumb, sports an unwieldy Southern accent but nonetheless projects warmth and goodness as a man out to, not catch the women, but to save them from themselves – but who finds himself stymied by a zealous FBI agent played by character-actor stalwart Stephen Tobolowsky in one of his many dyspeptic middle-manager roles.

Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis in Thelma & Louise

Credit, too, is due to screenwriter Callie Khouri, a writer who is generous to her characters, giving even third bananas, like the murder witness Keitel interviews, interesting things to say and do.

And pulling this all together is Ridley Scott, a director largely known for his visual sense but who here displays an incredible talent for walking a tightrope between serious drama, broad comedy, romance and tragedy.  The fact that all of these elements exist in balance, contributing to the fun and tension equally instead of pulling the movie overboard, is a testament to his work.  And under his watchful eye, the road-trip world of gas stations, cheap motels and skeevy bars has literally never looked better.

Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon in Thelma & Louise

Sounds like a sure thing, right?  And yet looming over all this, twenty years later, is the issue of the movie’s reception.  Allow me to address that simply and concisely: anyone who thinks that THELMA & LOUISE is a movie about a pair of man-hating lesbians on a serial killing rampage either hasn’t seen it or is a liar. The movie is about a great many things, but “hating men” is not one of them, and I dare anyone to see it and not find either themselves or someone they know in this story of good people  caught up in insane, hilarious, and tragic circumstances.


Video: This may be surprising to hear, but if you’re looking for a movie to show off your new home theater rig, you could do a lot worse than THELMA & LOUISE.  Ridley Scott is one of the most visual directors in Hollywood and he has rarely done better work than here, and thanks to a superb 2.35:1 transfer, the eyepopping visuals of Moab, UT and the Grand Canyon have never looked better.

Audio: On the other hand, this isn’t a movie you watch for the audio; that said, the 5.1 DTS surround sound keeps the dialogue (the most important thing in the film) sharp and clear.

Geena Davis in Thelma & Louise

Commentary with Ridley Scott: Scott’s commentary is rambling and discursive but makes for compelling listening; he doesn’t address individual scenes so much as share engaging anecdotes in his sand-blasted voice about everything from his overall filmmaking philosophy to the proper use of prop guns, and there is little dead space.  Some of his points are, perhaps inevitably, recycled from the making-of featurette but he is given more space to go into specifics.

Commentary with Geena Davis, Susan Sarandon, and Callie Khouri: Davis, an intensely intelligent and funny woman, largely carries this track with humor and verve, with Sarandon – who seems as stoic as her on-screen persona – as her slightly exasperated straight man.  Screenwriter Callie Khouri (pronounced “Coorie”) occasionally joins the conversation but often seems overshadowed by the actresses.  Nonetheless, the passion all three women still carry for this project shines through loud and clear and makes this a very worthwhile commentary.

Thelma & Louise: The Last Journey: This isn’t your typical puff-piece featurette but an hour-long retrospective that reunites huge swaths of the cast – not just notables like Sarandon and Brad Pitt, but guys like Stephen Tobolowsky – to discuss in frank terms both the movie’s production journey and its stormy, controversial reception.

Original Theatrical Featurette: This is your typical puff-piece and offers little you won’t find elsewhere (and better) on the disc.

Deleted Scenes and Extended Ending: Included more for completionism’s sake than anything else, these are somewhat interesting and flesh out subplots and side characters but generally leave very little question as to why they were left out of a 129-minute movie.  The extended ending, with its jarring, unsettling tone, similarly highlights exactly why the movie was correct to end where it did.

Multi-Angle Storyboards: The Final Chase: A look at the planning stages of the slightly over-the-top car and helicopter chase that ends the movie, this is mainly of interest as a look into the process of one of Hollywood’s best action directors.

“Part of You, Part of Me” Music Video by Glenn Frey

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