From The Godfather to Heat, the stamp of The Wild Bunch is self-evident. Italian director Carlo Carlei summed up the debt owed to the film and its director when he said, "There is a chain of inspiration like The Bible... Everything comes from Peckinpah."
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The Wild Bunch still retains its sorrowful, fatal power because of the complexity of Peckinpah's attitudes about violence. He forces us to confront our own voyeuristic ambivalence; we're alternately horrified by the butchery and exhilarated by the orgiastic energy his balletic spectacles stir up.
Film at 145 minutes is far over-length, and should be tightened extensively, particularly in first half. After a bang-up and exciting opening, it appears that scripters lost sight of their narrative to drag in Mexican songs, dancing and way of life, plus an overage of dialog, to the detriment of action.
“We're not gonna get rid of anybody! We're gonna stick together, just like it used to be! When you side with a man, you stay with him! And if you can't do that, you're like some animal, you're finished! *We're* finished! All of us!”
I'm embarrassed. The score associated with this review should be much higher, but here we are. Let me be clear, I do like "The Wild Bunch" and appreciate everything it is, with its unflinching depiction of violence paving the way for some of cinema's most impactful films and filmmakers. In fact, I'm comfortable saying that the opening and closing gunfights in this are absolutely perfect. Damn near everything between them, however, pales in comparison. I just couldn't find anything to latch on to when it came to these characters, save for maybe Ernest Borgnine's "Dutch Engstrom," probably the only stand-up guy in the whole picture. Everybody else either falls somewhere between stoic blank slate (i.e. William Holden's "Pike Bishop") or literal pile (Jaime Sanchez's "Angel). This hampers the weight of the ending, as well as everything that comes before it. Big hat-in-hand hours here, but it is what it is. Wish I liked this more.
The problem with this film is that a great deal of time is spent showing the protagonists laughing, drinking, and wenching, and riding horses here and there, and after ten or fifteen minutes of this it starts getting very old.
The other problem, of course, is that the protagonists are all bad guys. They're not antiheros. You need to have some redeeming characteristics to qualify as an antihero. And if you're going to carry a movie you need some redeeming characteristics. Don Corleone had his family "honor." Tommy DeVito made for a funny psycho. William Holden and company are all fine actors, but their characters are dry as dust and we the audience are supposed to sympathize because they're ageing out of the outlaw business and the times they are a-changing. So never mind that they shoot up a bunch of civilians and a bunch of fellas from the US Army. Never mind that they shoot up a bunch of guys from the army of Mexico. We're supposed to go along with this. And, sorry, but I ain't buying.
Sure, the bad guys do a couple of things that might be described as "nice," but there's nothing in the film to explain why these particular characters would do things like this, since gold and profit seem to be their only motivation.
I wondered if my criticism of the film might be unfair because, after all, it was shot in 1969. Things were different then. But then I discovered that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was also shot in 1969, and that, as I recall, was a film about bad guys too, but a far far far more successful attempt at entertainment.