Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Thelma & Louise

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Thelma & Louise on Blogcritics.

The Film
Ridley Scott’s 1991 film Thelma & Louise showed the British director to be an astute study of American cinema, for Thelma & Louise is a quintessentially American film, and Scott revels in and overturns tropes in a gleeful, yet tightly controlled manner. Scott had already shown himself to be a master of science fiction with 1979’s Alien and 1982’s Blade Runner, and Thelma & Louise establishes the director’s talent outside the genre. It’s also arguably the last great film he ever made, and his recent output doesn’t give any indication he’ll be straying from the blockbuster malaise he’s lapsed into.

But Thelma & Louise is a supreme achievement — a road movie and a revenge fantasy that embraces both genres with conviction while slyly deconstructing them until reaching a final act where the film trips over into totally new territory. The film’s transition from straightforward run-from-the-law antics to ultra-heightened fantasy is expertly crafted. Whether that was present in Callie Khouri’s script or not, Scott certainly knew where and when to amp this film up.

Susan Sarandon stars as world-weary waitress Louise and Geena Davis stars as bored, put-upon housewife Thelma. On an impulse, the two ditch small-town Arkansas for an impromptu fishing vacation in a bright green 1966 Thunderbird, leaving behind Thelma’s chauvinist husband, Darryl (Christopher McDonald), and Louise’s erstwhile boyfriend Jimmy (Michael Madsen) without any notice.

On the way, the two stop at a dive bar where Thelma draws the attention of the skeezy Harlan (Timothy Carhart), who eventually tries to rape her in the parking lot. Louise prevents the rape with a loaded gun, but even after she’s rescued Thelma, she shoots the guy anyway. That sets the two off on a frantic blitz across the American Southwest, headed toward Mexico, and the crime spree continues.
Along the way, Thelma falls for smooth-talking college student J.D. (Brad Pitt), and Louise faces the possibility of reuniting with Jimmy. Back in Arkansas, a sympathetic cop (Harvey Keitel) tries to convince the pair to turn themselves in, but his efforts are of no avail.

Adrian Biddle’s career-best cinematography captures the gorgeous vistas of the Southwest with a yearning, wide-open feel, while shooting the police stakeout scenes with a desaturated, overly dramatic flair that hints at Scott’s intentions.

The lengths to which the police go to follow up on a lead for a single murder case seem outrageous, but these scenes aren’t rooted in reality. They’re the first clue that we’re witnessing a series of heightened events for Thelma and Louise, who have finally broken free from their societal constraints into a fantasy world of revenge and empowerment, where they finally have the upper hand over the forces that have kept them down.

The fantasy culminates in a sequence where Scott pushes the throttle straight to level “bananas” and Thelma and Louise take their revenge on a dirty-talking truck driver who’s harassed them throughout their journey. The film continues in this strain with the famous final scene, although its mid-air freeze frame perhaps dilutes the effect somewhat.

Thelma & Louise is a film that’s far more than the sum of its parts — and those parts are quite good in and of themselves. Sarandon and Davis are an absolute delight together, the narrative is compelling, and the photography is gorgeous. But Scott achieved something here that is far less straightforward and far more interesting than it appears on the surface.

The Blu-ray Disc
Thelma & Louise is presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. This is an extremely impressive transfer that highlights the beauty of the photography with great clarity and detail. The transfer remains thoroughly film-like throughout with a pleasing layer of grain present but unobtrusive. Fine detail is readily apparent in hair and clothing, with stable blacks and colors. The earthy tones of the film’s landscape shots are deep and intense, but equally impressive are the metal-toned police stakeout scenes, which feature perfectly attuned contrast. The film has never looked better on home video.

Audio is presented in a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that’s solidly immersive, with frequent ambient sound and Hans Zimmer’s score filling in the rears. Dialogue remains the leading aural force, and it comes from the fronts with superb clarity and balance.

Special Features
There’s nothing new here in terms of extras, with everything ported over from a previous DVD release, although this is a better selection of features than most MGM titles receive. There are two commentary tracks to choose from, one featuring Scott and the other with Sarandon, Davis, and Khouri. A nearly hour-long making-of is comprehensive from pre-production to post-production, with a superfluous five-minute featurette looking completely inessential by comparison. Forty minutes of deleted scenes, an alternate ending with optional Scott commentary, storyboards for the climactic sequence, a Glenn Frey music video, and a selection of trailers round out the bonus material. Unfortunately, nothing has been given the HD bump here.

The Bottom Line
A classic piece of ’90s American cinema, Thelma & Louise shines in high definition.

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