Fat City and Thunderbolt and Lightfoot this weekend, a couple early 70’s films with Jeff Bridges. Has there, in the last 40 years, been a more amiable American actor, one more nonchalant and consistently likeable? I dig the dude. A couple years back (!) when I placed these films in my Netflix queue I had recently watched K-Pax, that supremely inane film, and marveled at how, even when surrounded by such cloying ontological piffle (his film career is studded with ridiculous but ephemerally pleasant crap like this) Bridges was still singularly entertaining, keeping his distance from the shark-jump hamming of Kevin Spacey and keeping the film watchable.
Back in the early 70’s Bridges excelled in playing rascally, ingratiating good ‘ol boy characters as both his supporting roles in Fat City and Thunderbolt and Lightfoot nicely showcase. He’s good in Fat City as a young boxer with potential, playing wholesome against Stacy Keach’s (surprisingly good—I almost got the taste of Mike Hammer out of my mouth) gone to seed former pro. But he’s really really good in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, a big hit when it was originally released, in full ingratiating rascal mode and playing Eastwood’s sidekick. The film itself veers a bit too widely from comedy to tragedy but there are a ton of rewards along the way to make it worthwhile. Eastwood, for one, is great here in one of his first comedic roles- laconic and graceful and already a legend. And most of the film takes place in Montana, something the director, Michael Cimino, takes full advantage of by including various shots that languorously take in the big sky and the rolling landscape adding a gentle, reposing texture to the film and its strange mix of the zany and tragic. And perhaps most importantly, it also stars Geoffrey Lewis, who will forever be a part of those early days of cable when I must have watched Every Which Way But Loose a few dozen times over the course of a couple months.