Monday, November 25, 2013


This week's top pick is Sam Peckinpah's dynamic 1969 film "The Wild Bunch". A sprawling, gritty western with a formidable ensemble cast, this turned out to be one of the most impressive entries in the genre. It begins with our title characters attempting to get away with one final robbery in 1913 Texas. As these aging renegades attempt to rob the local railroad office, their plans go awry in bloody fashion. In a violent shootout, a group of bounty hunters retaliate, even killing the innocent bystanders. Only a select few of the bunch remain, prompting them to make their way to Mexico to evade the law. With these bounty hunters already on their case, the wild bunch encounter even more trouble along the way.
Indeed, the violence doesn't end with the opening scene, an aspect that made this film infamous in its day. In fact, John Wayne himself criticized the film for its liberal depiction of violence. It's what makes the film stand out even now, due to its lack of heroic characters and a general absence of civility. This highly patriarchal society laid bare all the vices of men, including heavy drinking and hedonistic sexuality to go along with the violence. They were a wild bunch indeed.
With all of the debauchery on display, it would be easy to assume this film would play like B-movie pulp. However, if you actually watch the film, you're likely to be impressed with the skill on display. At the forefront is Peckinpah's dynamite direction, with stunning cinematography, superb sound design and a great control of tone and pacing. Even as the plot seems to overstay the depth of the material, the production values are so compelling that it never becomes tedious. The film is set during the final days of the "American West" and Peckinpah sends out this social construct in grand style.
The classic westerns have always seemed to glorify violence as a means to uphold justice. Furthermore, the antiheroes are often portrayed as sympathetic. Peckinpah however, presents a more realistic take on the wild west, showing how unpleasant such a society would have been. Women and children alike were caught in the crossfire, unwilling participants in an untamed parade of machismo. As the plot unfolds, the Latin American trajectory may remind you of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", but you'll find no Burt Bacharach songs here. Peckinpah took me on a brutal, bumpy ride and I loved every minute of it.

This film is part of my List of Shame.