Friday, February 09, 2007

The Wild Bunch (1969)

The Wild Bunch (1969) 

The Wild Bunch, from the late acclaimed director Sam Peckinpah, is a western that is credited as being hugely influential in the action movie genre, and is widely regarded as an all time classic. I'm not going to argue about its status as a landmark film, but I will say that I didn't much care for it.

The Wild Bunch is a western, but a non traditional one - it takes place in the early twentieth century, during the twilight days of the 'old west'. It's about a bunch of outlaws led by Pike (William Holden) and his lieutenant Dutch (Ernest Borgnine) who are getting a little long in the tooth and looking for one last (big) payday. During a botched bank robbery the gang becomes aware that their former partner Deke (Robert Ryan), who was captured and abandoned by Pike, is working with the authorities to help catch them. They flee to Mexico and wind up working for the vicious General Mapache (Emilio Fernandez) - they agree to acquire arms for him. This causes a bit of a conflict of interest for one of their crew, Angel (Jaime Sánchez), a Mexican whose village was attacked by Mapache's men. Meanwhile, Deke continues to track Pike and his gang with the aid of a vile and incompetent group of bounty hunters.

There's a lot going on in this film - themes of friendship and loyalty, honour (amongst the lawful and the unlawful), betrayal, and trying to fit in to a changing world. These themes are layed out with some degree of subtelety, and the characters are for the most part multi dimensional and the world they inhibit morally murky. The film is well acted, with the performances of William Holden and Robert Ryan being standouts. On technical merits its outstanding, with some beautiful (and desolate) imagery and innovative use of slow motion and quick cut editing - The Wild Bunch was hugely influential in the use of slow motion in action sequences, the use of rapid cuts to convey a sense of chaos, and the use of extreme violence (the actual bloodiness is tame by today's standards, but it still packs a punch). The two major shootouts in the film are thrilling in a messy and bloody way.

Despite all of its merits, I never really got into the film. That's not to say there's anything inherently 'bad' about it though. I found it somewhat dull, and didn't care much for the characters or events, although there are some moments that pack quite an emotional punch. I'm not big on westerns, but I have enjoyed some of them - Unforgiven, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West. The Wild Bunch just didn't work for me, classic or no.

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