Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Wild Bunch

The Wild Bunch is another of 1969's famous westerns, and while I didn't like it as much as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, it is arguably the more important film considering the direction the medium has taken since then. It's a brutally violent film that asks you to root for guys who are by no means anywhere close to good. Butch and Sundance were criminal outlaws, sure, but they avoided bloodshed where possible. The members of the wild bunch care about each other a lot, and that camaraderie is built effectively over the course of the story. But they're very hard, very bad men, and director Sam Peckinpah doesn't white wash anything they do.

An aging-but-not-quite-old William Holden and Ernest Borgnine lead the bunch, crooks who rob banks and shoot anyone who gets in their way. After they're set up on a big job by a posse led by an old acquaintance of Holden's, they're forced to stay in the game and deal with someone they'd rather not, a Mexican general who wants a shipment of guns. It proves to be a pretty fateful final mission. What's interesting about comparing The Wild Bunch to Butch Cassidy is how their endings are so similar yet so different. The content is essentially the same, but The Wild Bunch is much more explicit, reveling in violence rather than implying it. The movie would be notable for its bloody shooting even if that's all there was to it, but the way it's shot is important too - quickly editing between various angles and maintaining a deranged coherence among all the mayhem and gore makes it extremely influential over the future of action filmmaking.

It's not just violent though. They do a good job of developing and explaining the history among the gang members and also their main pursuer ended up on their trail, making it a more complicated and interesting story than a lot of older westerns despite appearing a lot less classy due to the explicit content. A lot of the plot is actually pretty clever - the train robbery is one of the best early heists I can think of. It's just a great example of how well constructed an otherwise simple adventure movie can be, and probably more important to the development of this kind of movie than I can really fully grasp. Solid acting, good direction, fun movie.

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