Sunday, May 8, 2011

Bonnie and Clyde (Penn. 1967)

“We rob banks”

Leading up to the 1960’s, American films had all been on a relatively even keel. It can be said that once The United States hit the counter-culture decade, the nation’s nerve for entertainment caught up to our frustration with the world. There were all sorts of movies being released that were unlike any that the people had ever seen. (Sex), (Ex) - ploitation films had become somewhat of an outlet for the ever growing youth in the country. But with more youth comes more frustration. And with frustration comes the need for an outlet. Bonnie and Clyde was that outlet. As sex and violence became less taboo, this film worked at shattering the remaining boundaries of popular culture.

This film tells the somewhat true story of the folk icons, The Barrow Gang. The people in charge of the gang are two of the most famous bank robbers in history, Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. Barrow was a small-time criminal who had served some jail time for armed robbery. He used his charm and obvious charisma to attract the attention of a smaller-time waitress in Parker. Together they formed a relationship of sorts. Though Barrow was no “lover boy”, he still fell in love with Bonnie. And how could you not? The audience sure does immediately without any problems.

Faye Dunaway is unfair. She is gorgeous and unmistakably talented. She brings a country charm to the role of Bonnie Parker that keeps this film sincere. Her desire to be loved by Clyde is one of the strongest undertones in the film, and her homesickness plays a major part in our sympathy for her character.

Warren Beatty, on the other hand, is maddening as Clyde Barrow. He plays the role very deliberately as a man lacking any confidence. The character is a very well put together mixture of manliness and hokey boyhood. It is almost like Beatty and Penn did not want us to know how to feel about Clyde. You will go the entire picture without trusting a word that he says, but we will cheer him on as he murders countless people. This may be the quintessential anti-hero in all of American film.

The supporting cast in Bonnie and Clyde can boast two Academy Award winners and two nominees in Gene Hackman (2-time winner), Estelle Parsons (winner for this film), Michael Pollard (nominated for this film) and Gene Wilder (2-time nominee) respectively. Each cast member supplies a memorable bit to the overall effect of the story. The more we learn about Pollard’s C.W. Moss the more we care about the Barrow Gang pathos. Hackman and Parsons keep the film grounded and emotionally challenging, especially Parsons. And Wilder works in a bit of humor to the whole thing. This is a brilliantly acted film.

But this is not why we remember Bonnie and Clyde. This film is very violent – with most of it being gun violence. And unlike other films of that decade, Bonnie and Clyde shows people being shot, their blood spilling and their bones splitting. Of course, these effects are very tame compared to what we have today, but it is still a very raw showing of what happens when bullets collide with skin and bone.

There are several other levels on which Bonnie and Clyde succeeds. The costuming in the film is brilliant, the cinematography is Academy Award winning and the ending is appropriately rewarding. The violence in the film is rivaled by our want to protect our “heroes” from the pain of the law. It may have simply been the mood in 1967, but you can almost see how the youth of that generation could relate with Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. This is an all time great film that kept me entertained throughout the entire running time. In fact, I wished that there was more to it. Loved every second.

Bonnie and Clyde: A

My Next Film…The Prestige (Nolan. 2006)

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