The Wild Bunch (1969)

wildbunch_2Starring William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Edmond O’Brien, Warren Oates, Jaime Sánchez, Ben Johnson, Emilio Fernández, Strother Martin, L.Q. Jones, Albert Dekker, Alfonso Arau

Directed by Sam Peckinpah

Expectations: High. It’s The Wild Bunch.

fourstar


When I was a teenager I loved The Wild Bunch because it was bloody and violent in ways that I had never seen in a classic western. This violence — and the way it was edited — would forever change the course of American cinema. Re-watching the film in my 30s, I am struck by how the violence is never presented as entertainment. It is instead meant to affect the viewer, and while 45 years of violent, bloody filmmaking have definitely softened its impact a bit, it’s still incredibly brutal and hard to watch at times. The violence also makes the film feel a lot more modern than its contemporaries, which I’m sure is a huge reason why this film has continued to resonate with audiences over the years.

On the surface, The Wild Bunch is about a gang of bandits who are looking to make one last score before getting out of the game. On their tail is the calm, mild-mannered Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan), who was once a trusted member of the outlaw group. It’s a rather simple and often-used story, but The Wild Bunch never feels simple or clichéd. One of the first images on-screen shows a group of children huddled around a colony of red ants attacking a small group of scorpions. This image is not only striking, but it is representative of the rest of the film and the struggles of the main character Pike (not to mention our own fascination with watching violent struggles).

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Badlands (1973)

badlands1Starring Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, Warren Oates, Ramon Bieri, Alan Vint, Gary Littlejohn, John Carter

Directed by Terrence Malick

Expectations: Low, but very curious.

twohalfstar


Badlands may be the debut film of Terrence Malick, but it was much closer to a modern Malick film than I had expected. It’s not quite so experimental and detached as either The Tree of Life or The Thin Red Line, but it is pretty damn experimental and detached. It defies genre classification because where you might expect a thrilling cross-country chase, Malick instead chooses to have his characters sit around a lot, enjoying nature and reading the paper. That’s OK, all films don’t have to be similar and derivative, but it does make Badlands a bit baffling from a traditional narrative standpoint. Finally seeing it sheds some light on why many are so obsessed with Malick, though; he’s one of the most singular and unique filmmakers ever to play the game. I give him credit for knowing exactly what he wants and being able to deliver it, but I can’t say that I enjoy the end results all that much.

This is easily the most narrative-driven Malick film I’ve seen, but it’s doesn’t exactly feel narrative driven. Things happen, leading to other things happening, but where that would traditionally constitute a plot, in Badlands it doesn’t really. It’s much more organic and free-flowing, like a dreamy slice of life, playing out almost like a tortured, realistic fantasy. The basics are that a 15-year-old girl named Holly (Sissy Spacek) lives with her distant father that never really loved her (or at least never showed it much). One day she meets a 25-year-old ruffian, Kit (Martin Sheen), who sweeps her off her feet with his bad-boy charm and his cool car. They manage to sneak around without her father knowing for a while, but when he does find out, he doesn’t take too kindly to it. One thing leads to another, and soon Kit and Holly are racing down the road in search of a place to hideout and get away from it all.

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