Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Wild Bunch

The Wild Bunch; Western thriller, USA, 1969; D: Sam Peckinpah, S: William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Edmond O'Brien, Warren Oates, Jaime Sanchez, Ben Johnson

Texas, early 20th century. The old outlaw Pike Bishop and his gang rob a bank. His former friend and now his prosecutor, Thornton, and some sheriff placed an ambush and planned to kill him from the roof but just then a parade shows up on the street and causes chaos. In the shootout, 4 outlaws are killed, but Pike and 4 of his men; Dutch, Lyle, Tector and Angel, get away on the Mexican soil. Thornton follows them. Since there was no money in the bags they robbed, Pike is forced to do one more heist before his retirement, namely to rob a train full of weapons for a Mexican general. Since Angel, a patriotic Mexican, steals one shipment of arms to fight against the general, the general's men capture and torture him. When he dies, Pike get infuriated: his and general's men kill each other. Thornton picks up the corpses and leaves with Freddy.

Rough, violent, dirty and pessimistic western "The Wild Bunch" by Sam Packinpah is with over 3.600 editorial cuts one of the most scene filled movies of it's time, deliberately turning "messy" in every aspect to match the theme of the chaotic end of the West, yet during it's premiere a lot of critics dismissed it as a monstrosity. The Oscars reacted the way they always do with a hyped controversial film - they either ignore it or give it just a few nominations, which they did here by nominating it just for best screenplay and score. Truly, as it is mostly the case with Peckinpah, some of his aesthetic images of gory violence and mannerisms are annoying, but the "Bunch" still prevailed and became a classic of the western genre, offering a story about ugly protagonists far away from the typical model actors in mainstream films, with violence that was shaped deliberately disgusting in order to, according to Peckinpah himself, "remove the fun side of movie violence".

Already the sole exposition is disturbing in which children observe how a mass of ants are killing two scorpions, foreshadowing what will happen to the protagonists, but it's also original how the director presents the main protagonists by "freezing" their image, then turn it into the negative and write the title of the actor playing it. The main antihero is Pike Bishop (Holden) who stands out from the ordinary western cliches: he is old and it seems as if his time is over since he claims that his gang has to quickly start "thinking beyond guns", whereas due to his weak leg he even falls from his horse, which causes his associate to question if he is able to be their leader anymore. The whole film is filled with gritty details (after the hired sheriff's gunmen kill outlaws, they quickly go to loot the clothes and shoes from their corpses) but also an occasionally wise moment, like when Pike and Dutch argue about their ex-friend Thornton hunting them down ("He gave his word." - "To the railroad!" - "But it's his word!" - "That's not what counts! It's *who* you give it to!"). By presenting the finale in which Pike and his gang go to rescue their captured friend Angel because honor means more to them than wealth, the movie actually redeems itself by showing how loyalty can exist even in the most primitive people.


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