Thelma & Louise (1991)
Thelma & Louise (1991)

Genre: Adventure and Crime Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 10 min.

Release Date: May 24th, 1991 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Ridley Scott Actors: Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, Brad Pitt, Stephen Tobolowsky, Christopher McDonald, Timothy Carhart, Lucinda Jenney

 


 

W

aitress Louise Sawyer (Susan Sarandon) and housewife Thelma Dickinson (Geena Davis) plan for a two-day vacation to get away from the monotony of their lives. But Thelma’s controlling, psychologically abusive husband, regional manager Darryl (Christopher McDonald, driving a sporty red Corvette with a conceited vanity plate), poses a daunting hurdle; she’s too afraid to tell him that she’s disappearing for the weekend. So, instead, she absconds after he departs for work, leaving a note on the microwave.

“Psycho killers, bears, snakes … ” Thelma brings a gun along for the ride in Louise’s green Thunderbird, foreshadowing the potential dangers of their road trip. But Hans Zimmer’s upbeat score and the popular music selection certainly don’t let on to just how harrowing their voyage will become. It’s a perfectly unassuming, low-key, almost uneventful start; even a stopover at a bar for some shots, line dancing, and flirtation appears harmless. Of course, with Ridley Scott, the director of “Alien” and “Blade Runner” at the helm, the unexpected is somewhat expected. And this is a bit of a deviation from his previous, recent works, since “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “Black Rain” were crime dramas of the legal and law enforcement variety.

When Thelma has too much to drink, and Silver Bullet bar patron Harlan (Timothy Carhart) attempts to rape her in the parking lot, Louise resorts to shooting the man in a moment of heated antipathy. Angry yet frightened, the duo flees down the highway, certain that Thelma’s earlier friendliness toward Harlan – in front of countless other people – would foil any claims of self-defense. With no where to turn, and no one to help them, the unprepared, careless, reckless twosome take off, driving through Arkansas to Oklahoma City in an effort to acquire some money for an ultimate escape into Mexico. “I’ll say one thing. This is some vacation.”

It’s a thrilling exercise in just how fast ordinary events can spiral out of control; how split-second decisions can alter the course of entire lives. Perhaps the film’s most fascinating quality is how it takes this shocking escalation and presents it as believable – even reasonable. “Thelma & Louise” is entirely grounded in reality, no matter how spontaneous their choices or how unfortunate their dilemmas, making it all the more unsettling. “I’m just not ready to go to jail yet.”

Investigator Hal Slocumb (Harvey Keitel) represents the law closing in, while a succession of scummy people – both preexisting in the women’s lives and encountered along the way – populate this chaotic, epiphanic, somewhat Candide-like odyssey across the sweltering environs of the Southwest. Amusingly, every new acquaintance (from a young Brad Pitt to the recognizable Michael Madsen) is immediately suspicious; even the seemingly inoffensive ones present uneasiness, thanks to the brutality of the initial assault. Trust in even commonplace behavior from the supporting characters is fleeting at best; and it’s almost comical when tempers continue to flare up sporadically.

“We’re fugitives now.” Time is spent chronicling the leads’ histories, delving into their unfulfilled fantasies, and contrasting their mindsets, frequently taking a break from the authorities’ pursuit. The drama is absorbing, if a bit distracting (crossing back and forth between genres), though contrived twists keep the titular characters continually in dire straits. With a different cast and crew, this adventurous crime caper might have been routine; but here, the plot never grows tiresome, the script is sharp (peppered with humor), and Sarandon and Davis give absolutely spectacular performances, full of emotion and desperation – even if the running time is a touch too long. Still, it’s a nuanced, complex, tragic build to a suspenseful, unforgettable climax – one so unique and momentous that it often overshadows the very human story at the heart of the picture.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10