Wild Bunch, The

Reviewed By Scott Weinberg
Posted 12/11/99 07:42:44

"Now THIS is a movie!"
5 stars (Awesome)

Ever wonder what became of cowboys? Not the Roy Rogers kind, but the dirty, sweaty, bank-robbing brothel denizens? Did they just get wiped out like the dinosaurs, or was it a gradual and difficult extinction? Well, from the looks of Sam Peckinpah's classic The Wild Bunch, they went down shooting.

An unfortunate thing that happens to classic movies: They get ripped off and cannibalized so often, that they begin to lose the very aspects that made them classics to begin with. I could see watching this movie with an average 17-year old, and hearing comments like "Yeah? So? I see this in any action movie I rent. Big deal." Well, when this was made (1969), graphic violence to this degree was unheard of in movies. The Wild Bunch (and of course Arthur Penn's Bonnie & Clyde) ushered in a revolutionary new style of violent realism. While many felt that this was not a positive thing, it was here to stay. These violent images were simply a reflection of the times and an artistic way for filmmakers to make their points, only with exclamation points instead of periods.

Pike (Holden) and Dutch (Borgnine) lead a dwindling group of outlaws who have been pushed ever-southward thanks to advancements in law enforcement and burgeoning civilization. The year is 1913, and these criminals are aging quickly. Their last big heist turns out to be a waste of time, and now they have a gang of hired guns out to get them. The leader of the posse is Deke Thornton (Ryan) who is forced to kill them or return to the tortorous Yuma prison. The fact that Deke used to ride with this gang makes it a lot more interesting. On one hand, he knows how Pike and his gang operate. On the other, he still feels a sense of loyalty to these guys, even though he has no choice but to confront them.

The Wild Bunch is an action movie that makes no apologies for the violence it depicts. This untamed and wild breed of man is slowly being made extinct by civilization, law and industrialism, yet they're not going out without a fight. The Wild Bunch touches brilliantly on the topics of honor amongst thieves, loyalty to one's homeland, and the inevitablity of progress. That's not to say that this is a preachy movie, though. There are some wonderfully exciting action scenes, although much of it comes off a little bittersweet, as if these are the final days of some sad, wild animal.

Nothing short of brilliant and near-perfect action entertainment. The Wild Bunch is a lyrical and touching examination of how society's growth doomed these frontiersmen. Full of wonderful dialogue and performances, make sure you see The Wild Bunch if you never have. (The Director's Cut is predictably superior.)

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