Rolling Thunder ★★★★½

As a young man, William Devane had a Neanderthalian look to him: skinny lips formed into a frown, penetrating eyes nudged aside by a dominating nose, and thick, leathery wrinkles of skin where parts of the face come together. A great deal of Rolling Thunder’s tension must be attributed to the fact that he looks like an animal but rarely expresses himself like one. He stares straight and keeps a composed disposition, as though completely certain that nothing on the home front could ever be troubling enough to incite a rupture in civilized appearance (sense-memory flashbacks, like the eruptions in Je T’Aime, Je T’Aime, stress that open-mouthed agony is a thing of the past, even as the ripples of the pain have been internalized). Given Paul Schrader’s involvement as a screenwriter, Devane’s restraint might be seen as a Bressonian tactic, but it’s also of utilitarian function for director John Flynn: the straightforward thrust of Rolling Thunder’s narrative creates a space in which an outward manifestation of internal hurt would be an unnecessary delay. On the surface, this a film that’s ruthlessly committed to getting from point A to point B with no fanfare, and once it gets there the movie must end. Acting style and narrative approach are harmoniously united.

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