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Thelma & Louise

(1991) *** R
128 min. MGM. Director: Ridley Scott. Cast: Geena Davis, Susan Sarandon, Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, Christopher McDonald, Brad Pitt, Stephen Tobolowsky.

/content/films/3950/1.jpgSay what you will about Thelma & Louise (many have), but there's no doubt that it was a zeitgeist picture with a potent cultural impact. The 1991 road movie was a sexy “vehicle” for two Oscar-winning actresses. Pent-up screenwriter Callie Khouri let loose with her imagination and won an Oscar and a public debate, while director Ridley Scott continued his string of hits by agreeing to bring his testosterone to the party. Whether or not Thelma & Louise qualifies as a feminist picture is a matter of debate, but definitely serves up a heaping dose of "grrrl power."

Naive Thelma Dickinson (Geena Davis) and no-nonsense Louise Sawyer (Susan Sarandon) are Southern-fried friends who, almost thirty years after The Feminine Mystique, suffer from "the problem with no name." Their dissatisfaction stems in part from day-to-day doldrums that limit their freedom, and in part from men who don't love them enough: Thelma's cruel and idiotic husband Darryl (Christopher McDonald) and Louise's nice enough but non-committal hubby Jimmy (Michael Madsen). Figuring it's better to ask forgiveness than permission, Thelma leaves Darryl to her TV dinners so she can accompany Louise on a fishing weekend; the gals hop in Louise's teal 1966 Thunderbird convertible and head out on the highway, away from boring old Arkansas and into history. Buckle your seatbelts, and suspend your disbelief.

Most of the picture frames the heroines as outlaws on the run after one woman saves the other by gunning down an attempted rapist. Though the trauma of a past rape plays a part in pulling the trigger, the street justice (death penalty for attempted rape, no waiting) is probably not what Betty Friedan had in mind. Setting aside the inciting melodrama, Khouri's larger point is that the road trip allows Thelma and Louise to feel, as they haven't in years, liberated and alive: they get to travel, for one thing, and one of them finally gets laid "properly," no small potatoes for women looking at dead-end small-town lives in what's still very much a man's world. On a larger scale, the film liberates women as screen characters, allowing them to shoot, dominate and star, as they did once upon a time in Hollywood's Golden Age.

Though its small payback for years of objectified screen women, the treatment of men in Thelma & Louise can be hard to take for those of us with a "Y" chromosome. Khouri gives us sympathetic if clueless men in Jimmy and Detective Hal Slocumb (Harvey Keitel), a cop who shadows the FBI from his home turf to protect the women in trouble. And the political correctiveness wouldn't be complete without an objectified man: the then-unknown Brad Pitt, acting up a storm with his abs (and creating a career in the process). But every other man on screen is a screamingly "loud" cartoon cad (Darryl, the rapist, a crying cop) with comeuppances designed to elicit high fives from the women in the audience. The schematic narrative makes it easy to keep score of the feminist points.

Sarandon and Davis are so good and so complimentary that they make the picture, and they earned twin Oscar nominations for their pitch-perfect star turns. Scott does his part by keeping the action brisk, the scenery iconic and the look smoky, as per his patented style. But, above all, this is a story of friendship, a buddy picture for women, in the Butch Cassidy mold. Rationally speaking, Scott's film is incredible and tonally skewed, a tragedy wearing a grin, but emotionally speaking, Thelma and Louise are two outlaws you'd want to have a beer with.

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Aspect ratios: 2.35:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 2/8/2011

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Thelma & Louise looks terrific in its Blu-ray debut, far better than I've seen it look since its release twenty years ago. Worlds above previous standard-def issues, this disc boasts a clean and sharp picture with exceptional detail and texture, as well as natural, accurate film grain and color, with no sign of digital artifacting. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround can't quite compare to the striking upgrade in picture quality, but it's strong enough to deliver as much sonic impact as the picture has ever had (which is mostly in the music department).

The disc generously includes both audio commentary with director Ridley Scott and audio commentary with Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, and screenwriter Callie Khouri. Scott gives good commentary, with plenty of film-school worthy factoids about Hollywood direction, though the more entertaining conversation comes from the looser women's track.

The extensive making-of doc "Thelma and Louise: The Last Journey" (59:43, SD) comes in three parts: "Conception and Casting," "Production and Performance," and "Reaction and Resonance." Interviewees include Khouri, Scott, Davis, Sarandon, Harvey Keitel, Brad Pitt, Michael Madsen, Christopher McDonald, Stephen Tobolowsky, and Jason Beghe, among others.

The "Original Theatrical Featurette" (5:23, SD) can't compare, but it's nice as a historical relic.

On hand again are "Deleted and Extended Scenes" (40:19, SD) and the "Extended Ending" (3:42, SD), with optional commentary by Scott.

"Multi-Angle Storyboards - The Final Chase" (4:38, SD) can be viewed as storyboards only or in a comparison of the storyboards and the final film.

Last up are the "'Part of You, Part of Me' Music Video by Glenn Frey" (4:28, SD) and "Trailer and TV Spots" (6:53, SD).

The full complement of bonus features and A/V upgrade will definitely have fans looking twice (and more) at Thelma & Louise.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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