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February 05, 2005

Review: Bonnie and Clyde

Bonnie & Clyde

Bonnie and Clyde... were killers! What I thoroughly enjoyed about this movie was the frank way in which the anti-heroes were portrayed. In fact, I daresay that if this movie hadn't been made, a movie like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid couldn't have been made (or at least, not so soon after this one); nor for that matter, could we have had Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, for different reasons entirely.

Bonnie and Clyde came out in 1967, in a year when different sorts of movies were out -- it's good to see this one in context, to understand how different it really was. In the Heat of the Night won Best Picture¹; Newman played in Cool Hand Luke; The Graduate opened to acclaim and launched the career of previously unknown New York stage player, Dustin Hoffman; Spencer Tracy died in June, and with him, a certain kind of movie that Hollywood just can't make any more.

Before this movie, violence wasn't candidly displayed in films, not really. It was in long shots, with flashes indicating gunfire. Or you'd see Cagney with a tommy-gun in his hands, spraying bullets at off-screen assailants. What you absolutely wouldn't see was a man getting shot in the face, his upper body in full frame, blood spurting from his features as he fell off the car he was holding onto -- the Barrow gang's getaway car.

And yet, we still feel a certain kind of empathy for the gang, which is really the film's brilliance; we know they're not latter-day Robin Hoods, but we also know that they live in a time and place of great poverty, brought home by a touching scene near the end of the film when a wounded Bonnie and Clyde are driven through an Okie camp. We feel for Bonnie, who loves Clyde desperately even though he can't achieve intimacy -- a risky role for the handsome young Warren Beatty -- and we feel for Clyde, with his brazenness, his charisma, his foolhardiness and his own errant quest for the American Dream. These are people who looked for the easy way to Easy Street -- and discovered the consequences.

I don't know much about the film's historical accuracy -- except for a few things I took the time to dig up on the internet. In particular, there are a few points in the film where pictures are being taken -- Clyde's brother Buck² has a camera -- which you can actually still find on the 'net today. The few pictures they are shown taking are eerily accurate to the real photos. Also, I know that they died in much the way the picture describes -- itself a very violent series of images.

I really enjoyed this movie, and I'm glad for what it gave to Hollywood, while at the same time sorry a bit for the innocence it took away. The innocence would have faded soon enough, I'm sure, so I guess I'll have to be glad it was this film that hastened it on its way. Better a great film than a poor one.

***½ (out of four)

¹Deservedly -- a great film, holds up pretty well even now.
²Superbly played by Gene Hackman -- himself a virtual unknown before this film.

Posted by Brett Douville at February 5, 2005 09:40 AM