Friday, September 30, 2011

THELMA & LOUISE (1991): Tale of Desperate Women

Thelma and Louise is part tragedy, part slap-stick and part self-righteous melodrama.  It has its merits in that we feel for the two main characters.  Yet this is a movie that is brought up in every tabloid headline whenever women get together to go on a crime spree and thus can never live up to all of the hype.
Louise (Susan Sarandon) is in a long term relationship with Jimmy (Michael Madsen), a man she loves and can never commit to emotionally.  Thelma (Geena Davis) has been married to Darryl (Christopher McDonald) since she was 18 years of age, and feels no love from him whatsoever.  The two bored women take a road trip.  Thelma gets drunk and is almost raped, but the rapist is shot dead by Louise.  The two suspect that the authorities will have no sympathy for them, so they decide to flee for Mexico.  Unfortunately, any money they have is stolen from them by a thief and rogue named J.D. (Brad Pitt).  Thelma, feeling that she has let down her friend by allowing herself to be seduced by such a cad, robs a grocery store which then alerts the authorities to their location.  A good hearted FBI enforcement officer named Hal (Harvey Keitel) does all he can to save the women, but eventually a car chase ends in Arizona where the two women deliberately take their own lives by driving their car into the Grand Canyon.
Susan Sarandon acting ranges from being strident to helplessly overwrought as Louise.  Only during certain moments in the film does she seem to experience joy.  Gina Davis was much better cast as the younger and more innocent Thelma.  Thelma shows great range from silliness to despair.  Harvey Keitel could not be more ill suited for his role as the character he plays is a long ways from the one he played in The Bad Lieutenant.  Brad Pitt is an able actor, but he’s a bit too cute to end up being such a hick.  And no one else in the film is memorable.  Every other character in this movie is a type.
To read the reviews of this film, one is supposed to be impressed by the Director and Producer of this film, Ridley Scott.  I guess he does all right for someone as inexperienced in the film industry as he was at the time.  He never directed or produced a blockbuster film before this.  Yet he directs this more as a crowd pleaser than a film we really should take seriously.  For two women so down and out, their dialogue is a bit too clever and witty.  The comeuppance for almost every male character that gets on their wrong side comes too easily.  The ending is predictable. 
Having said this, Ridley Scott probably never did such a good job of directing since that time.  For a 130 minute film, it is well paced.  The film projects energy among the two leads.  We can understand by their circumstances why they are unhappy.  The film is just not believable.  Are we really to believe that only an FBI agent named Hal would be willing to listen to the two characters?  Does anyone think that they made their own circumstances one iota better by going on a crime spree?  Does the director really need to make their circumstances anymore dire by having every law enforcement officer from Texas, New Mexico and Arizona (not to mention Federal agents) pursue the two wayward gals?  Ridley Scott wants to make a statement and show off his wit.  He also wants to show off his talent at filming scenery and knowledge of film history by show casing his heroines in a modern day western.  This is a better film in style than it is in substance.  Emotionally, the film only succeeds at some level because we care for the two characters.  Yet with the hullabaloo surrounding the chase, it is difficult not to be distracted watching the film from remembering that we are supposed to care for these two women.
September 30, 2011
©  Robert S. Miller 2011