Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Release Date: August 13th, 1967 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Arthur Penn Actors: Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Michael J. Pollard, Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons, Denver Pyle, Dub Taylor, Gene Wilder
ot only does “Bonnie and Clyde” deserve recognition for its pivotal role in the progression of violence in American films (for the first time, bullets produce gushing blood, and no injury is without the bright crimson of Hollywood paint), but it’s also worthy of acknowledgement for its masterfully-told antihero romance, infused with a style and edginess borrowed from the French New Wave movement. Despite the unforgettable team’s bearings on the wrong side of the law, they’re unambiguous protagonists, portrayed as realistic people full of multi-faceted emotions and drive (like the following real-life adaptation of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” , but without the preoccupation with levity). The quality and wonder of the film is often overshadowed by its iconic, over-the-top conclusion, but the character development for Bonnie, Clyde, and the supporting members of the Barrow Gang is nothing short of perfection.
Texas, 1931, is the start of a new chapter in crime for Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty), fresh out of prison for armed robbery, and Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway), a waitress yearning for adventure. The two create a captivating coupling, determinedly setting out to strike it rich. They’re not inveterate outlaws, but they fail to see the harm in their spontaneous, wild actions; and so the twosome rob banks and grocery stores and steal cars – anything to get from one place to another, with not a care in the world. Soon, they recruit the help of amateur mechanic and driver C.W. Moss (Michael Pollard), who also seeks a respite from the mundane, and shortly afterward, they unintentionally involve Clyde’s brother Buck (Gene Hackman) and his wife Blanche (Estelle Parsons). Plenty of suspense follows as the police and enraged Texas Ranger Frank Hamer (Denver Pyle) close in on the unsuspecting larceners.
Neither Bonnie nor Clyde seems to understand why people want to kill them; after all, they’re simply stealing money, not trying to hurt anyone. Their perception of their crimes doesn’t accommodate the concept of victims – therefore, they’re unable to comprehend the inevitable retaliation sought by the law, which manifests the bitter vengeance of the people they’ve harmed. Like a twisted version of Robin Hood’s men, they steal only from the rich, but then reserve the loot for themselves alone. Bonnie eventually learns to regret her decisions, chiefly from the awakening disapproval of her mother, and marginally from her constant need of attention from Clyde, who fails to reciprocate. She realizes all too late that instead of going somewhere, they’re endlessly caught up in the act of just going. Barrow never figures that out, instead imagining that if he could do it all again, he’d rob banks using smarter maneuvering.
More than the overwhelming bloodshed (witnessed most memorably at the finale), “Bonnie and Clyde” introduces audiences to an unconventional love story – one that thrives on companionship and excitement, but is complexly devoid of true romance. Beatty and Dunaway make one of the most memorable and sexy onscreen duos through obvious chemistry and a decidedly one-sided passion. And, like gallant, gentlemanly crooks, they’re humanized in such a way that their highly exaggerated, gruesome destiny appears largely undeserved. Adding to the formula are great comedic interludes (Gene Wilder is particularly hilarious as an innocent bystander), artistic cinematography (as can be witnessed by the dreamlike sequence in which Bonnie visits her estranged mother), and plenty of pulse-pounding car chases and machine-gun shootouts. As a whole, “Bonnie and Clyde” is a mesmerizing biopic that dares to turn villains into heroes while splashing violence and sexuality across their cinematic endeavors in a revolutionary manner, which would provoke 10 Academy Award nominations (winning for Best Cinematography and Best Supporting Actress) and influence countless pictures to come.
– Mike Massie