THE WILD BUNCH
DIRECTOR: SAM PECKINGPAH
COUNTRY: USA 1969
CINEMATOGRAPHY: LUCIEN BALLARD
MUSIC: JERRY FIELDING
CAST: William Holden, Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine, Edmond O'Brien, Warren Oates, Jaime Sanchez,
Ben Johnson, Strother Martin, L. Q. Jones, Emilio Fernandez
SUPER FEATURES: The whole film is amazing.
This is, without exception, one of the BEST westerns ever done. And it is a credit to the genre and filmdom that this film was chosen to be released again in a cleaned up format. And if you are not aware of it, this is a film that should be seen in a large screen, not on a TV screen. Like many of the great classics, this film takes one thing, and make it live so well, that it is rather insufficient to just catch it on a TV set. The expansive setting of this film,
is one of its beauties. And it is hard to find something that is not well done in this film.
When if first came out, this film was attacked for its treatment of violence. Sam Peckinpah, was a visual man. All of his films are centered on what a "character SEES" in front of him, and how he/she remembers things. And this film takes it to an extreme, by making a killing in the end, and slowing down the madness. By slowing it down, it gives the film a hallucinatory feel that is rare in film making, and at the same time, makes a point about the way we treat life. To this group of people, life doesn't mean much anymore. To the Mapache, and all his croonies, life is no different than a pig, either. And caught in the middle are the innocent who get ravaged then killed. And Peckinpah, makes sure that we know what the word corruption really means.
The difference in corruption is subtle. But honesty about it, is what separates the man from the boys. The down and out gun slingers, do it as a matter of business, in exchange for their living. The generalissimo doesn't care how it is done, as long as the Indians don't get it, and he gets all the women and drink he wants.
But the real compliment here, is the characters. ALL OF THEM. Sam takes every character you have ever seen in any film, which became a stereotype, and gave it life. You finally get to see what a real bastard is like. You finally get to see the seedy Mexican general really does in his spare time. And you get to see the way that the Indians are treated in Mexico, and how they have to fight to survive, instead of just being victims all the time. Only the weak die in this jungle. For a while anyway.
And the acting... oh my goodness. It is so tight, and so alive that it is scary. It is hard not to like the villains in the film, doomed that they are. Even if they do dirty work for a living, the fact remains that they are the only real decent thing in this whole mix.
Pike and Dutch (William Holden and Ernest Borgnine) lead a group of outlaws into the Mexican world. And to survive in this new jungle where people do not mean anything in a civil war of feudal interests, they have to do their job carefully and well thought out. But then, they are not ordinary men either. They pull of their heist, and prepare to take it to their man. But their man is not trustworthy, and his accomplices are even less trusting. The delivery has to be done gradually to keep them at bay. But unlike the Mexican "court" these outlaws know that life is always teetering on the edge. The general has taken prisoner one of their own, and are torturing him before they decide that they will kill the guy. And these outlaws are trying very hard to stay out of these politics, but can not. And if they can not get what they want in life, they will get it in death. The result is the ensuing shoot out, a masterpiece of madness in the making, so well used and worked with.
In most films the violence is gratuitous, and the reasons are nebulous at best. In this one, it is justified. Not pleasant, mind you, but justified nonetheless. The same thinking seems to state that war is justified at times. Maybe it is. Not all men are created equal, and what they do sometimes has to be dealt with. Violence in life is one of these moments of truth.
Like any other excellent film, there are other stories in this one. Pike and Dutch's group are being chased by another outlaw that has been forced into action by a dishonest sheriff. And his own group of slingers is a mix and match group of bums. He has to make do with nothing, and his time is always just a little behind things. The group he has, is not exactly the best, but he can not get the army, or real gunfighters anyway. Which brings out the real point in this film. There is a fine line between the law and the outlaws. The town's mayor, probably wanted to get the loot from the bank stolen anyway, so he could cash in on the deal, and the towns people get caught in the crossfire. Apparently, he had planned that. What the generalissimo does in no different. He goes about is just the same way.
Some of the nest acting you have ever seen, were it not for the violence in this film, the way it is photographed, this film might have done what UNFORGIVEN did several years later. The similarities in style in both films is amazing.
This is a western where people are people. The good guys and the bad guys are people. And we all can be bought and swayed in some way or another, be it greed or just a no choice situation. The real difference is how we will behave in between the moments, where our life and living makes a difference.
To THE WILD BUNCH and Sam Peckingpah, this is the difference between a man and a child. One plays with animals. The only difference is the age.
Excellent film. A classic to be sure. Must see for all western fans. Excellent acting, and the lines, feel just right, and proper, as does the action. No pretense here. One of the best westerns ever done.
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