Tuesday, September 05, 2006

THE WILD BUNCH (1969)

The Wild BunchWilliam Holden Directed by Sam Peckinpah
Starring William Holden
Reviewed by Chad Wilson

HESITANT THUMBS UP (3 out of 5 Rating)! A HESITANT THUMBS UP FILM REVIEW RATING (3 out of 5 Rating)!

The Wild Bunch is often credited as a classic western and praised as a bold departure from the morally prideful films with straight-laced heroes. Director Sam Peckinpah continues his maverick tastes in this film, creating a story filled with anti-heroes and villains with just a touch of morality, and a heavy helping of action and violence. While the film is important in the grand scheme of film history and westerns in general, it doesn't quite live up to the mantle of "classic" lauded by fans.

An aging band of outlaws in the American Old West come up with a plan to end their wayward ways with a final robbery that will make them rich. Gang leader Pike (William Holden) finds his plans going awry when his ex-gang-mate-turned-bounty-hunter Deke (Robert Ryan) foils their bank robbery and pursues the bandits cross country. Dealing with his discontented gang, bounty hunters on his tail, and the end of his way of life, Pike manages to find a way out by stealing arms for a Mexican General named "Mapache" Juerta (Emilio Fernandez) which may just present the biggest payoff of his criminal career.

Short and reserved dialogue from the actors makes for a somewhat stolid style in this otherwise grand tale of the old west. William Holden in particular drives the film, portraying Pike as a tired man on the fringe running out of time in a land quickly being swallowed by civilization. In many ways the story of The Wild Bunch is an homage to a vanished way of life and the men who lived it. In accordance with that theme, director Peckinpah creates his tale with a lot of male gusto and stoic drama. These are hardened men living life hard and fast, spending what time and riches they have on violence, drink, and women.

Like most Peckinpah films, the characters of The Wild Bunch are atypical subjects and outsiders. Peckinpah pulls no punches as his characters kill and fight their way through one robbery and onto another. Like the morally ambiguous characters of Kurosawa films that inspired The Wild Bunch, we watch the gang do their deeds with a combination of repugnance, admiration, and understanding. The action in the film is pure Peckinpah panache, and movies like The Wild Bunch inspired the action genre for years to come.

The weaker elements of The Wild Bunch also rest with Peckinpah. The pacing of the film can often feel as tired as the main characters. Peckinpah was never a overly innovative visual director outside of his action sequences and this film does drag from drab, conventional shots during the majority of the acts. The script is also a fairly banal work from a narrative angle and many flashback sequences are extraneous scenes worth cutting. Unlike other western classics such as Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time In The West, The Wild Bunch feels like a film from the late 60's rather than possessing a visual presence that would transcend its own era. The final act is also a violent tour-de-force typical of Peckinpah films that fails to provide a strong closure to the story.

An important film of the action and western genres, but not quite the great classic often attributed to Sam Peckinpah's anti-hero adventure films.

Click here for The Wild Bunch movie trailer!

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