Two decades ago, Ridley Scott was not the name that immediately sprang to mind as the director of a feminist road movie, but there he was back in 1991 at the wheel of Thelma & Louise, a revved-up vehicle for the talents of Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis.
As you’ll recall, Thelma (Davis) is a put-upon housewife married to a bullying, boorish husband (Christopher McDonald). And Louise (Sarandon) is a smart, tough, coffee-shop waitress whose singer boyfriend (Michael Madsen) won’t commit to a permanent relationship.
Best friends, the pair decide they need a weekend away from their menfolk and set off in Louise’s ’66 Thunderbird convertible. The trip begins lightheartedly enough but at a roadside bar, somewhere in Arkansas, a local stud attempts to pick up Thelma. The encounter ends in violence and Thelma and Louise are forced to flee across country, heading for Mexico. As the police close in, led by sympathetic cop Harvey Keitel, the couple are driven, inadvertently, comically, tragically, to commit a series of lawless acts that turns them into outlaws.
The women’s cross-country trip is a journey of transformation, of redemption and of liberation – not least from male chauvinism. En route, Thelma and Louise encounter representatives of different types of maleness from barroom skirt chaser and leering truck driver to the swaggering young hustler (a star-making role for Brad Pitt) who delivers Thelma’s sexual awakening and steals the pair’s cash. For the most part, however, the women come out on top and their besting of the men they come across still provides a thrill.
Indeed, 20 years on, Thelma & Louise stands up remarkably well. Screenwriter Callie Khouri, who won an Oscar, brings a determinedly feminist sensibility to a usually masculine genre, while behind the camera, Scott focuses a keen, outsider’s eye on the wide-open spaces of the American southwest, including John Ford’s beloved Monument Valley, here burnished by Adrian Biddle’s glowing, Oscar-nominated cinematography. Best of all, Sarandon and Davis create on screen a deeply emotional bond.
The film’s spanking new Blu-ray release comes with an array of extras, including a pair of commentaries – an entertainingly anecdotal one from Sarandon, Davis and Khouri, and a nuts-and-bolts-informative one by Scott on his own.
Released on Blu-ray on Monday 6th February by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.