Rolling Thunder is a 1977 film you don’t hear much about these days. That’s a shame because it is an excellent revenge flick.

William Devane stars as recently released Vietnam POW, Major Charles Rane along with Army Sgt. Sergeant Johnny Vohden, played by Tommy Lee Jones.  Chuck is reunited with his wife and son in Texas after 7 years in communist hands.

Things aren’t all peaches and cream for the Major though. During his first night home with his wife, she admits to him she had been having an affair with a local cop who she intends to marry. A very common tale among real-life returned Vietnam POWs sad to say.  He isn’t surprised though and determines that his son is the most important thing.

Later the town honors the Major by giving him a brand-new car and a silver dollar for every day he spent in captivity. A local barmaid presents this to him and confesses she’s a bit of a groupie over him.  None of this makes much of a dent in Rane’s mood though. He’s suffering from a very serious case of being emotionally dead inside from PTSD.

Some local shitbags from the Tex/Mex border decide they want those silver dollars and catch the Major alone at his home. They try torturing him to get the money but the Major is so used to being abused he takes it silently. Even enduing having his hand turned into a burger in the sink’s garbage disposal.

About this time his wife and son arrive home to see what’s going on. Immediately taken hostage, the son gives up the money to save his Dad. Once they get the money they promptly shoot all three, killing the cheating whore of a wife, the son and wounding the Major bad enough to appear dead.

While recovering in the hospital and getting used to his shiny new hook in place of where his hand used to be, he claims ignorance about the details of the robbers. Once out, he starts some investigating of his own with the help of the barmaid. Once he determines the killers hang out at a whorehouse in Mexico, he goes and gets his friend Vohden to help him take his revenge.

The film culminates in a hell of a shootout at the Mexican whorehouse, and it’s glorious.

Rolling Thunder is an excellent film written by Paul Schrader, he of Taxi Driver fame. Devane is great at playing a tortured soul silently suffering from the demons he picked up in the Hanoi Hilton, and you feel for the guy every time he is on screen.  While it sounds like a simple exploitation film, it’s not. There is a  lot of subtlety in the story, and it takes its time getting to the violence, and it’s better for it.

As a factoid, the film takes its name from Operation Rolling Thunder, the name of the offensive B-52 bombing of North Vietnam. Now you can impress your family at Thanksgiving this year with that knowledge.

5 out of 5 stars.

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