Wild Bunch

Bomb Rating: 

"The Wild Bunch?" How about "The Old, Decrepit, about as Useful as a Fart in the Wind Bunch?" From the first second Pike Bishop (William Holden) and his gang show up on the scene, they're sucking hard. They try to rob a bank only to find out that they've been set up by one of Pike's old riding partners, Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan).

Thus, the bunch gets to split bags full of metal washers instead of bags full of gold. This prompts Lyle (Warren Oates) and Tector Gorch (Ben Johnson) to get pretty uppity, while Dutch (Ernest Borgnine), Angel (Jaime Sanchez), and the requisite old-man, wiser-than-the-cactus character, Sykes (Edmond O'Brien), remain ambivalent. They aren't exactly happy about having washers, but they lack marketable skills in the changing world of 1913 and doing much else seems a waste of time. In other words, they're stupid.

Most critics consider director Sam Peckinpah's western to be a seminal work in the genre. This is because Peckinpah depicted people being shot as though they were actually being shot. Prior to this, characters in Westerns would clutch their stomachs, call out for their mothers, and fall to the ground in Shakespearean glory. Why critics thought this film was especially groundbreaking probably has to do with the fact that most film critics are lucky if they can make it to the popcorn stand and back without breaking a sweat. In other words, their range of actual experience is rather limited and seeing somebody get realistically shot seemed new and cool at the time.

That the Western was dying as a genre in 1969 and the characters in the film were dying as viable villains also lends itself to overzealous analysis. Peckinpah obviously saw glory in stupidity. It's too bad he's not around to make a movie about the courageous guy who still refuses to give up his BetaMax, or the groupies who still tour with "Journey." If you understand the saying "you can't teach an old dog new tricks," you understand this movie -- and have just saved yourself a good two hours.

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