An ex con teams up with federal agents to help them with breaking up a moonshine ring.
For the years 1978 through 1982, movie exhibitors named Burt Reynolds the king of the box office in Quigley Publications' annual poll. The actor laid the groundwork for his five-year domination during the '70s in a string of films where the roles he played were similar character types allowing his charisma to shine. He went from ensemble pieces like 'Deliverance' onto lead roles like 'The Longest Yard' and 'White Lightning', the latter of which is now available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics.
In 'White Lightning', Reynolds stars as Bobby “Gator” McKlusky, an imprisoned moonshiner, whose younger brother is murdered by Sheriff J.C Conners (Ned Beatty) of Bogan County, Arkansas, as shown in the opening credits. Gator wants revenge so bad he agrees to work with the Federal government to bring Conners down. Reminiscent of Al Capone, the Feds can only get the sheriff for evading taxes off the money he makes from the moonshiners. Gator goes undercover in search of evidence.
Gator is given a fast car and he tests it out in a small town on the way back home from jail. For fans of 'Smokey and the Bandit' like myself, there's something about Reynolds behind the wheel while police are in "high-speed pursuit" that just feels right. It's funny to see all the local folks lining the sidewalks as Gator evades the police. While it ruins the illusion of the movie, the driving stunt work of Hal Needham and his team still impresses.
Gator gets a job running blocker for Rebel Roy (Bo Hopkins) and proves himself on their first job together, which allows him to meet people higher up in the operation's chain. Gator complicates matter by not rebuffing the advances from Roy's girl Lou (Jennifer Billingsley), who makes her desires clear.
Also complicating matters, but in a smart way, is screenwriter William Norton, who has Conners alerted that the IRS is sending someone after him or already has. This ratchets up the tension as Conners begins his own investigation, and things grow increasingly difficult for Gator. Norton's best bit of writing is a throwaway line by Maggie (Diane Ladd, who is missing a "d" in the credits) at a funeral because it reveals the relationship between two characters.
'White Lightning' is a successful carsploitation/hicksploitation blend that rises above the genres because of its strong cast and well-executed action scenes. It was a hit at the box office and led to the sequel, 'Gator', which not only saw Reynolds in front of the camera but was his first time behind it as a director .
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Kino Lorber Studio Classics present 'White Lightning' on a 25GB Region A Blu-ray disc housed in a standard blue case. The disc boots up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements.
The video has been given a 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at 1.85:1. During the opening credits, there are many instances of dirt and scratches, but for the remainder of the movie, it has been cleaned up.
Colors come through in strong, natural hues as seen in the green and browns of the landscape as Gator travel across it. When Gator visits with his parents, his clothing displays different blues from his light-colored shirt to his darker, denim jeans. Blacks are solid but occasionally crush. Whites are solid, though sunlight peering through a jail window in one early scene nearly blows out the image.
A light layer of film grain is present. Though some shots can appear soft due to the source, there's a good amount of texture detail on display, such as lines and beads of sweat seen in an actor's face. Throughout the film, depth is well captured. I didn’t notice any digital artifacts diminishing the video quality.
The audio is available in DTS-HD 2.0 Mono and the track offers a well-balanced mix. The dialogue is clear and understandable throughout. Charles Bernstein's score sounds great. The instruments are clear and identifiable within his arrangements that nod toward different genres.
The cars seem to move across the limited soundfield and their effects are the best example of how wide the dynamic range is. On the high end are the police sirens and squeal of screeching tires while the engines deliver a low rumble on the bottom end.
Fans of Burt Reynolds, fast cars, and Burt Reynolds in fast cars should enjoy 'White Lightning'. The Blu-ray delivers an adequate HD presentation, and has a brand new extra featuring Reynolds that will make the viewer wish for more. Recommended.