The Wild Bunch (1969) (R)

Sam Peckinpah is one the most curious figures in cinema. From "Straw Dogs" to "Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid" the man's style seems at once both too much to be ignored and too much to taken seriously. He is violent, sexually and physically, and his statements are both dry and entertaining. Sam Peckinpah is full of contradictions, and his wild editing technique is quite recognizable (a recurring image of different falling in slow motion from a balcony is shown in this of the many odd moments). Quick edits juxtapose next to violence next to nature shots—it becomes a kaleidoscope of confusion and it provides its audience with the feeling that they are missing something...don't worry, that's just Peckinpah's style. You'll find it in every one of his movies.
As compared with the director's best work: "Straw Dogs", "The Wild Bunch" is relatively tame...but then again, it is perhaps his most showily violent...ah, so many things to say.
The movie begins with a classy and dusty scene in which several soldiers ride into town. They are being watched by a rag-tag-looking group of men on roof with lots of guns who are trigger happy.
The soldiers shuffle into a bank and then we realize that they're not noble men. These guys are criminals robbing a bank and there's a bounty on their heads. The criminals are lead by a man named Pike Bishop (William Holden) who used to ride with the leader of the bounty hunters, Deke Thorton (Robert Ryan). What twisted webs we weave.
After the bank robbery there is a glorious shootout that lasts for nearly ten minutes, or at least what feels like that. The criminals run out, losing a few men and the bounty hunters don't kill Pike or his secondhand man Dutch (Ernest Borgnine).
Peckinpah proves his ruthlessness here by showing much more blood than what audiences were used to at the time. Remember that this is the same year that "Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid" came compare the two pictures and see which is more violent.
The movie does have that stylized western feeling that so many movies of this era do. It would be several years until the arrival of Clint Eastwood that we would get a re-imagining...but more on that in other posts.
"The Wild Bunch" is mainly a movie about the one crowd trying to evade the others. Certainly there is no clear "good guy" in the movie, though we are supposed to cheer for the titular group more; but keep in mind that there is no honor amongst thieves.
It's not a plot heavy movie, nor does it deserve to be. The question is: how did they make this film two and a half hours long? The answer is simple: pointless rabbit trails. We get side stories about some of the minor characters in the wild bunch and then we have scenes that take too long. One scene in particular involves bathing in wine vats and a steam room and besides one clumsy piece of character development, it really does not add anything to the movie.
Continuing on, "The Wild Bunch" is stunning to look at. It has been preserved remarkably well considering how "Butch Cassidy" looks now.
Sam Peckinpah also co-wrote the script for the movie; but his odd style is what sinks it for me. I don't think the man has made a great movie, they are all too full of themselves to be tangible to me.
There's a lot to be said about Sam Peckinpah but not much to say about the movie itself. It feel genuine in moments and also like a magic trick in others. There are grudges and insane characters, but either not enough or too much.
It needs to walk the tightrope and at some moments it does, but for most of the movie it just falls over.
That being said, this is the most accessible of Peckinpah's movies, so if you're going to work your way into the director, start here.

Score: ★★½

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