'Why do I always get stuck with crazy men?' Linda (Linda Haynes) asks Major Charles Rane (William Devane). ''Cause that's the only kind that's left', he replies. Yes, all men are crazy. Linda should have known. Like so many women in crime films she just can't help falling for the crazy one that's going to drag her down to Hell. Not that she could have imagined what the Major was like when she presented him with 2,555 silver dollars (one for every day he was a captive in 'Nam) during his Welcome Home ceremony. Trouble is, those coins are the reason things turn very bad.
Typically for once Young Americans returning from the Vietnam war, Major Rane inhabits The Real World like a ghost. 'Everything passes', he says at one point; everything, that is, except the effects of being tortured. He's so numbed that even the advances of Linda fall on barren ground.
When the Really Bad Thing happens to his wife and son along with his hand being mangled it's time to sharpen the hook, saw off a shotgun and go tear-assin' (as I believe my American friends might say) down to Mexico. That place is full of greasy, evil types, 'gringo' this and 'gringo' that. Not that the Major is gung-ho about his task, he's more a stealth kind of avenger, preferring to send poor Linda in first to act as bait and soften them up.
Quentin Tarantino listed Rolling Thunder as one of his all-time favourite films but don't let that put you off. Paul Schrader and Heywood Gould's script is lean, lifting it way above the average revenge thriller. As you'd expect of Schrader, it's good at plumbing the depths of a dead soul. There's an obvious similarity with Taxi Driver too when the final reckoning takes place in a brothel.
The fact that the Major drives around in a red Caddy the size of the average Mexican house and is therefore hardly inconspicuous when he's on the trail has to be forgiven. That and the deviation into the demise of the cop who's trying to save him. And the dodgy theme song at the beginning, which makes you think you're entering a very soppy 70s film instead of the hard-edged exploration of alienation and the catharsis of violence.