It’s easy sometimes to overlook the importance of what’s come before us. This attribute is probably the worst is in our arts, as we’ve adopted the tendency to laud classic works perfunctorily. So it’s a pleasure to come across a very great film that demands to be recognized as the truly original work it was. Such is 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde.
The film begins with a manic sensibility which never eases. A young, tempestuous waitress in a small Texas town watches a young man try to break into her mother’s car. She runs downstairs to meet him and learns he’s an ex-con. They set off to town, where the young man holds up a general store and steals a car with the young woman. It is at this point that the audience is formally introduced to Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow.
Casting themselves as bank robbers, the couple enlists the help of a mechanic, C.W. Moss, and rob their first bank. After Clyde kills the bank manager, the trio hides out and waits for the arrival of Clyde’s older brother Buck and his wife Blanche. Once the five are together, they begin a crime spree across the Midwest, although much of it takes place off screen. As their legend grows, the authorities intensify their attempts to capture the gang, ultimately leading to a bloody conclusion.
The film is a masterwork on all levels. Each actor fully inhabits their role and believably brings their character to life. Warren Beatty plays Clyde in a way which defies the typical conventions of the young hoodlum. He doesn’t want to hurt any innocent people, as he shows during the aftermath of the first bank robbery. He’s daring yet at the same time insecure, with a quick temper that shows poorly at times. The gorgeous Faye Dunaway bests her partner in crime as the kittenish but dangerous Bonnie. At the beginning of the film, she’s filled with the nervous energy and candidness that defines young adulthood. But as the gang keeps experiencing close scrapes with the law, she becomes more attuned to her eventual fate, foreshadowed brilliantly in an oddly comic scene with Gene Wilder, and a picnic scene with her family. Her character demands the audience’s sympathies and attention.
The supporting cast turns in performances that are every bit as good as the leads. Gene Hackman whoops it up in one of his first roles as the boisterous, livewire Buck Barrow. Winning an Academy Award for best supporting actress, Estelle Parsons convincingly plays a backsliding woman who’s constantly in hysterics. Her character also serves as an interesting contrast, which sometimes produces conflict, to the cool Bonnie. But Michael J. Pollard nearly steals the picture. His downtrodden, amiable Moss wants nothing more than for Bonnie and Clyde to escape with their lives and legend.
Written by David Newman and Robert Benton, and directed by Arthur Penn, Bonnie and Clyde created a new form of cinema. Heavily influenced by the French New Wave, the film romanticizes the legend of the outlaws, while keeping the drama rooted in the characters. The writers keep the flow unconventional enough that the film doesn't feel like a typical Hollywood film. Also, the problem of Clyde’s impotence in his and Bonnie’s relationship seems groundbreaking, since a problem like that is the least thing an audience expects now, let alone in the late sixties. Bonnie and Clyde is infamously known for its violence, which seems rather tame by today’s standards. It’s easy to see why the film was controversial for its violent content though, since it depicts graphic scenes without frills or gratuitousness. Penn’s frenetically edited sequences are an obvious inspiration to filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan.
The Blu-ray picture is outstanding, presenting the film as the timeless classic it is. The video transfer of the Academy Award-winning cinematography captures every bit of the central plains’ beauty. There is little noticeable grain, and the colors aren’t burdened with antique hues. The gun battles are ear-popping loud, and the inclusion of the blazing banjo tune “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” complements every aspect of the picture.
There are enough extras included to make the disc a must-buy. A three-part, hour-long documentary tells the tale of the production and release of Bonnie and Clyde, which reveals interesting stories like how there was a ménage a trois in the original script, and how the film barely escaped being lost in bad box office numbers. An informative History Channel special on the real Bonnie and Clyde is also included, detailing the real story of the couple’s life and gang. Finally, the film’s trailers and two deleted scenes round out the release’s special features.
Seeing Bonnie and Clyde for the first time, especially on Blu-ray, was a real treat. Whether you're a first-time viewer or you've seen this film before, I definitely recommend purchasing this release.