Bonnie og Clyde
One of the classical themes in American movies is the criminal couple who roam the country stealing and shooting left and right. “Natural Born Killers” and “Thelma and Louise” are some of the famous examples, but the mother of this sub-genre is “Bonnie and Clyde”.
Coming out in 1967, “Bonnie and Clyde” was on the crest of the wave changing American movies in those years. Heavily inspired by the French New Wave and exploiting the dissolvement of the Hays code, director and producer were free to make a wilder version of this story than would have been possible just a few years earlier. The editing is very modern, there are sexual references that for its time was surprisingly frank and the violence was brutal and visual in a way that would have surprised audience in the day, though to a modern viewer perhaps not so much. However, the theme and the progression of the story, meandering as it is, are probably the major news from this movie.
Bonnie (Faye Dunaway) and Clyde (Warren Beatty) meet up in the opening of the movie in a love-at-first-sight moment. Bonnie is bored and need to get away and Clyde is charming as hell. That he openly declares that he robs banks seems only to be a plus. Off they go to rob some banks. On their way they pick up driver and mechanic C.W. (Michael J. Pollard) and later on Clyde’s brother Buck (Gene Hackman) and his wife Blanche (Estelle Parsons), making a Barrow gang of five members. While the guns and a few shots were always part of their modus operandi, things become more serious when people start dying from their shooting, especially policemen.
Most of the movie is the gang constantly shooting their way out of the traps laid by the police and to the credit of the movie none of that shooting is presented as particularly glamorous. On the contrary, it is frighteningly real. People die painful deaths or are wounded in horrible ways. Yet, “Bonnie and Clyde” also dabbles in the comedic genre with silly scenes and bantering or serious scenes that becomes involuntarily comic, such as robbing a bank that is already bankrupt, or having sandwiches with the owners of the car they have just stolen. I am not as confused by these changes in style and theme as it may appear, this is after all almost a trope by now, but it is jarring in another way.
My problem with “Bonnie and Clyde” is the theme itself. This sub-genre has never held any appeal to me and I cannot get my head around the fascination there seems to be with outlaw couples shooting their way through the land. I get that there is something about ultimate freedom and anarchy and also an anti-authoritarian element, but this is not Robin Hood fighting a cause, but simple criminals. That Clyde is charming and Bonnie is pretty does not really change that. Getting to know them does not make me sympathize with them, they only get pity from me, something they seem incapable of toward their victims. In that sense, the lighter tones of the movie feel almost insulting. When they die is a hail of gunfire I am not as much horrified as sighing in relief that it is ended. As you may have guessed I never seek out this type of movie if I can avoid it.
Having said that there is no denying the production value in “Bonnie and Clyde”. Everything technical is top notch. The pictures are gorgeous and knife sharp and makes me appreciate the Blue-ray format. Acting performances all round are great. All six main actors were nominated for the Academy award and Estelle Parsons won in her category. But as mentioned above, the novelties in storytelling that this movie introduced to American cinema is probably the greatest achievement of the movie. You watch this movie and it does not look 52 years old.
I was surprised to find how many actors got their breakthrough with this movie. Faye Dunaway, Gene Hagman and Gene Wilder were practically new to cinema and went on to become some of the greatest names. Only Warren Beatty was an established actor at the time but rather than being a vehicle for him, “Bonnie and Clyde” is an ensemble movie that let all of them stand out. It is not often that five actors get nominated from the same movie.
For those who are into this genre this is a must-see. For us few who are not, we can at least enjoy the technical achievements of “Bonnie and Clyde”.