Ridley Scott’s movies have always been male-oriented, but he also has a knack for putting women at the forefront. This gives his movies a non-traditional edge. His second feature, Alien, is one of best examples of this. After Alien, Scott didn’t really return to this female-driven approach until he made Thelma & Louise, and he decided to double up on this one with two female protagonists.
Louise (Susan Sarandon) is a waitress in an average diner. Thelma (Geena Davis) is a housewife whose overbearing husband is just a complete jerk. Louise has to go on a road trip and asks Thelma to come along for the ride, although Thelma would never get permission to go from her husband, so she doesn’t tell him she is going. This is the beginning of a trip that goes from bad to worse when a man tries to rape Thelma in a parking lot and Louise shoots the guy. They decide to make a run for it and head to Mexico.
The trouble is that both ladies aren’t exactly what you would call career criminals. They leave traces of their flight left and right for the police and FBI to find. Within no time they are hunted by both. During their race to freedom they discover more about themselves and each other than they would ever have expected. Thelma turns into a really confident criminal, shooting and robbing. She has truly been freed from her shackles of marriage. Louise remains the conscience of the duo, but she finds that she doesn’t need a man as badly as she thought she did.
Sarandon and Davis are excellent as these embattled women who have become somewhat feminist icons. They take matters into their own hands no matter what the consequences are. It is not often that we see these kinds of roles in the hands of two women. We follow them on this journey and Scott manages to put us square in their court. Their infectious enthusiasm, fueled by their new-found freedom, leads to some questionable and foolish behavior, but as a spectator you never find yourself condemning them. This is because Scott shows empathy for them and therefore so do we.
Next to the wonderful performances by Davis and Sarandon there is a slew of secondary characters. The law enforcement side is played by Harvey Keitel and Stephen Tobolowsky. Keitel as the sympathetic policeman who just wants them to come home before they do anything stupid. Tobolowsky as the humorous FBI agent who just wants to catch them and be done with it. Christopher McDonald is Thelma’s husband and he is one of the stand-outs for me. He is so wickedly stupid in a self-important way. He has such a hard time being nice to Thelma that the suggestion by the police of him being nice on the telephone to her gives him pause. This is ultimately what gives him away and that makes him and the police look even more stupid. A wonderful performance and a lesson to all of us men.
Michael Madsen is Louise’s boyfriend who just doesn’t want to commit. That is just about his only crime. He is good to her, he even agrees to deliver money for her, he just doesn’t want to commit. Last, but not least, there is the young gentleman J.D. who plays Thelma for all she’s worth. Thelma is so hungry for attention, as shown in the scenes in the bar that lead to the attempted rape, that she doesn’t pick up on any of the signs that could tell her J.D. is up to no good. He is civil, he is polite and he is a thieving bastard. As you can see, men don’t really fare too well in Thelma & Louise.
I like Thelma & Louise and will even go on record as saying that this is one of Scott’s best movies. It shows that he has more in stock than just pretty visuals and male chauvinism.