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USA 1969
Directed by
Sam Peckinpah
144 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4.5 stars

Wild Bunch, The (Director's Cut)

Peckinpah's best-known film and the one that identified a visual style which has been been imitated and parodied inummerable times since. Set in the early 20th century as cars and planes were making their advent, William Holden leads a bunch of moth-eaten outlaws looking to pull one last job in order to set themselves up for retirement. The plot is straightforward and opens and closes on two such jobs that go respectively wrong and very wrong, joined by the trajectory of redemptive transformation common to so many American films.

There are two principal aspects of interest. One is Peckinpah's regular thematic preoccupation with manly honour, a quality attributed to the outsider hero (once again a popular concept in American film) and depicted with fatalistic romanticism in opposition to conventional society. Whilst providing the emotional core of the film, sometimes this seems laboured, particularly with respect to establishing the camaraderie (which as the scene where Robert Ryan takes the dead Holden's pistol from its holster unequivocally indicates, was in fact displaced love) amongst the outlaws, with unsubtle, over-extended shots of the doomed gang laughing heartily together. The other is his depiction of violence. Facing criticism that he was indulging an appetite for violence with his extended set pieces, Peckinpah claimed to be showing violence as it was (the film was released at the height of the Vietnam War). This is not really a defensible argument. True, the film did show innocent people getting killed indiscriminately and intentionally but essentially there is nothing particularly confronting about the actual depiction of violence. On the contrary the ease with which The Bunch kill and are killed (see the scene where Ernest Borgnine expires next to William Holden) are well within the boundaries of conventional gun-happy bang-you're-dead Hollywood depictions, flair of depiction notwithstanding. As a genre film however it is an undisputed classic offering, as always with Peckinpah, a rich experience with much on which to reflect. The original version was shortened by the studio and the film appears in various versions at 135 and 121 mins. The restored version at 144 mins is the only one to watch.

BTW: The old-timer who cooks for the gang and survives them is played by a virtually unrecognisable screen veteran Edmond O'Brien.

 

 

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