Friday, January 12, 2007

The Wild Bunch

REMINDER: The Brattle Movie-Watch-a-Thon starts tonight. Drop me a line if you would like to sponsor me, go hereto make a donation, and check back on a near-daily basis to see how well I'm doing.

Updated HBS with a review of The Quiet American (1958 version); kind of surprised to see that the ratings for the 2002 version were only so-so. It makes it kind of amusing that I give the '58 version four out of five stars and say it's not as good as the remake, and then the remake averges to 3/5.

Still haven't picked up my Watch-a-Thon materials, since I got to the theater just as The Wild Bunch was starting last night. Next time they do this, I'm starting earlier. I've colleced a bunch of $25 flat fees but no-one willing to do even $1/movie. Reputations are dangerous, and apparently folks have figured out that I go to a lot of movies even when it's not for a good cause.

The Wild Bunch

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 11 January 2007 at the Brattle Theater (Staff Picks 2007)

Maybe The Wild Bunch isn't quite as shockingly violent today as it was upon its first release; what Peckinpah did in 1969 was pretty close to unprecedented. But even if the amount of raw blood and guts isn't the sort of thing that challenges the boundaries of the "R" rating by todays standards of mayhem, it's still able to take the audience aback.

This is, after all, one of those movies where you have bad guys and worse guys, as opposed to good and bad, and as we watch the opening robbery of a Wells Fargo office turn into an ambush and then a bloodbath, it's far from clear which is which. The robbers are thieves, after all, and the one guarding the hostages is a real creep, but the railroad detectives and bounty hunters staking the place out are all too willing to shoot first and ask steal the boots off the corpses later; it's no wonder that Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan), the former member of the gang the the railroad has dragooned into helping catch them, spends most of his time feeling like he's on the wrong side.

Maybe he is, and maybe he isn't. It soon becomes pretty clear that the gang's leader Pike Bishop (William Holden) isn't terribly attached to anybody in his gang, except maybe Dutch Engstrom (Ernest Borgnine), and will sacrifice them without batting an eye. Indeed, leaving one ember behind for the law to pick up seemed to be his plan. None of the gang are completely amoral, though - especially Angel (Jaime Sanchez), who is looking for a way to defend his village - and both in between and amid the violence, the audience has to keep eye out for which individuals have personal moral codes, and how willing they are to cross those lines. Age and experience are a factor, although not always in the same way: Pike and Dutch have made it to middle age by eschewing the sentimentality that Angel carries around, but their brand of pragmatism doesn't wear so well on the younger members.

William Holden and Robert Ryan are seldom less than riveting on-screen. Their characters share a bond of respect and betrayal that unites them so strongly and sets them up as clear counterpoints that it's easy to miss that the only scene they have together is a flashback - and that scene was left on the cutting room floor when the film was originally released. Holden makes Pike appear tired, recognizing that he has to adapt to changing times and showing the strain, even though he's generally able to handle it. Ryan's Deke seems more active, but less willing to be flexible. There's impatience and contempt in his every expression. He's resigned to his lot, but always looks like the only reason he doesn't kill the idiot he's dealing with is that he knows what prison is like.

Full review at HBS.

Good stuff. Pity that there's no HD-DVD version of the snazzy two-disc DVD set that just came out; I'd be all over that. No excuse for that, Warner - I've seen and loved the spiffy Robin Hood, Forbidden Planet and Casablanca sets too much to not demand them going forward.

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