Monday, June 13, 2011

Bonnie And Clyde (1967)

Like A Bridge Over Shallow Waters

- 1967's Bonnie And Clyde echoes themes of an anti-establishment and a counter-culture nature while also offering up a critique of the American Dream through its story of two in-love bank-robbers during the Depression Era. The film's influence is proved (especially in the presentation of silver screen violence) and it has received a lot of critical praise both during the time of its release and following generations. However, the film did not personally impress or entertain me. Take it or leave it, my reaction to the film is as follows:

To start, I found the Academy Award-nominated direction by Arthur Penn and the Academy Award-winning cinematography Burnett Guffey to be exceptionally insipid. Penn's framing and scene movement feel very conventional and frankly boring with a lot of straight-on medium shots and the occasional close up – which is a very different situation than his impressive work on Little Big Man (1970). Guffey's cinematography, somehow winning an Academy Award, looks incredibly bland especially when compared to other well-shot films of 1967, such as the dynamic picture of Conrad Hall's work on Cool Hand Luke or the lush coloring of Freddie Young's cinematography in You Only Live Twice.

The disappointing visual presentation of Bonnie And Clyde is a crucial element to my overall dislike of the film but its entirely unlikable characters are also a major contributing factor. I simply do not find the film's characters to be likable or relatable. The supporting characters certainly are not relatable to me: Michael J. Pollard's illogically loyal follower character C.W. lacked any logical motives for a single thing he did in the film; Gene Hackman's Buck Barrow character was loud and obnoxious; and somehow Estelle Parsons was able to win an Oscar for her nearly intolerable performance of Blanche Barrow (Buck's wife) that consisted of little more than hollering and crying.

The lead characters were not much more appealing to me than the supporting characters. As Clyde Barrow, Warren Beatty over-sells his supposedly charming and often al dente tough-guy act with an exaggerated delivery and plastered-on smirk. I would not say that Beatty gives a flat-out bad performance in the film – he convinces, for the most part, as a hot-shot criminal youth – but he certainly overcooks his scenes.

Beatty did not impress much as Clyde Barrow but the same cannot be said of Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker. With a very layered and thoughtful performance, Dunaway was the only actor in the film that created a real human being; being able to, unlike the rest of the cast, express a tangible inner conflict and thirst for fulfillment in life in her character. To put things bluntly, Bonnie seemed to be the only genuine, albeit unlikable, character in the film thanks to a flawless and authentic-feeling performance from Faye Dunaway.

My biggest gripe with the film is how it takes these two unlikable characters in Bonnie And Clyde and sets them up as some sort of two-headed anti-hero, champions of the little man, with unconvincing results. Bonnie and Clyde are portrayed as a pair of Robin Hood figures but, unlike other anti-heroes throughout film history (such as Edward G. Robinson's character Rico Bandello from Little Caesar (1931) or Michael Caine's character Jack Carter in Get Carter (1971)) who are vile yet compelling anyway, Bonnie and Clyde never felt sympathetic or interesting to me. The two characters give up on a life of honest work and selfishly turn to crime (which was not much more lucrative a venture) so that life will be more enjoyable. This is something I cannot understand. Yeah, life is tough – so, what, you are going to be a criminal so you can get out of busing tables? Bonnie and Clyde even rob banks *proudly* because of the way that the banks are repossessing people's houses during the Depression (never mind the fact that banks lose money when they have to do that, they want people to pay their mortgage so that the banks can collect the interest as the way they earn a profit) but never stop to think that they are robbing people's life savings in the process - and all to feed their selfish need for exciting living. Bonnie and Clyde's crime spree feels very shallow.... as does the entire film, in the end.

CBC Rating: 4/10

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