Saturday 1 January 2011

Movie Review: Bonnie And Clyde (1967)

The story of outlaws Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, Bonnie And Clyde explores fame and notoriety through a blood-splattered romantic crime drama.

It's the early 1930s in the depression-hit southern US. The suave Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) has recently been released from a stint in prison for armed robbery, and he's back seeking a life of crime. Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway), an attractive but bored waitress, catches Clyde about to steal her mother's car. Both in their early 20's, he seduces her with the promise of a better life; she sees in him the opportunity to escape the drudgery of her boring destiny. Soon they are robbing stores and banks in a trail of crime with ever increasing violence across several states.

They are joined by car mechanic C.W. Moss (Michael J. Pollard), Clyde's brother Buck (Gene Hackman), and his wife Blanche (Estelle Parsons). After several shoot-outs with police officers and many narrow escapes, the gang gains unprecedented notoriety thanks to breathless press coverage, and the duo take on the aura of heroic fugitives sticking it to the system. As the stakes get higher, so do the risks, as the authorities ratchet up the intensity of the chase to bring Bonnie and Clyde to some form of justice.

Riding the counter-culture wave, Bonnie And Clyde adopts a sympathetic stance towards its subjects. Young and attractive, Clyde is portrayed as smart and instinctive, while Bonnie is ambitious, sensual and headstrong, as well as a budding poet who cares for her mother. Both are playful and get a rush from taking risks. In contrast, their victims are mostly faceless and nameless police officers, guards, storekeepers and bank officials, shot and killed doing their jobs.

Within the context of villains as heroes, director Arthur Penn crafts a beautiful period piece bursting with nothing-to-lose energy. The film recreates an era of economic malaise in need of distraction, and fuelled by sensational media coverage, charismatic criminals willing to stick it to the authorities tap into a national mood of defiance. With societal survival itself an everyday concern, extremes can be tested, and here crime is coupled with graphic and gory violence. Blood flows freely as the Barrow gang carve a trail of crime through the countryside, with the cameras not turning away when victims are shot in the head at close range. 

Beatty and Dunaway were only a few years older than the real Bonnie and Clyde at the time of filming, and they are both engaging in their portrayal of the young criminals. Dunaway colours Bonnie Parker as a complex, easily irritable woman who needs adventure, loves to have fun, and craves attention. Beatty establishes Clyde Barrow as an intelligent man, seduced by a life of crime, enjoying the thrill of the chase but quick to turn to violence. Gene Hackman, Michael J. Pollard and Estelle Parsons in an Academy Award winning role bring a lot of vivid, memorable energy to their supporting roles.

From the cars to the costumes and from the sets to the landscape, Bonnie And Clyde looks gorgeous. Penn frames the action within breathtaking vistas of the middle-America rural countryside. The cinematography of Burnett Guffey and the Charles Strouse music score are a perfect complement to Penn's vision. In these vast open spaces, violence wrapped in the flag of anti-authoritarian rebellion breeds legends.

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