What is there left to say about the Wild Bunch that hasn’t already been covered in the past forty-six years? Probably not much. But let’s see if I manage to scrape together something even remotely half-decent yarn from my viewing experience.
The movie is obviously a classic as far as westerns go. Who honestly has not heard of the Wild Bunch in some context during their life even if they have not personally seen it? In a way the movie reminds me a bit of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. It’s at its core a violent and very ruthless story of a gang of outlaws in the west, with plenty of bloody massacres left in their wake, showing you the bleakness of the ruthless cutthroat lifestyle and what the merciless brutality of outlaw life entails. The main characters are all criminals, and while you might like their personas, you don’t sympathize with their plight. They all dug their own graves years ago, the events of the movie are just their accumulated karma finally catching up to them and I quite liked that element of the story.
The explosive opening of the movie, when the gang sets off the trap laid out for them in the bank and the shoot out that then breaks loose in the middle of the town spells out perfectly what type of a story you are in for. There are no real heroes, merely shades of hardened, bloodstains ridden shades of grey. Justice is almost a façade here, as the only thing that seperates the good guys from the bad is the railroad’s blessing and license to kill that comes in the form of being deputized to hunt Pike and his gang of outlaws down. This sanctioned posse of bounty hunters are quickly revealed to be nothing more than equally loathsome bunch of misfits, motivated purely by avarice and self interest rather than any type of real heroism or human decency. There is no mercy in their arsenal, all you are entitled to is a bullet to the head with your name on it.
As a fan of ultra-violence, the opening shoot out was one of the highlights of the entire movie for me. The rampant gleeful brutality and surrounding chaos was beautifully captured on film and throughout it’s filled with highly exciting camerawork that is a absolutely gorgeous sight to behold. The entire opening gunfight is surprisingly long and drawn out sequence, but it never feels like it’s outstaying its welcome, and the pandemonium is quite a spectacle to watch. Peckinpah’s genius in shooting the movie with several cameras that operated on different frame rates and then cutting the scene with fast-cuts truly created something the world had never seen before on film.
Usually I tend to find this type of movies very appealing, but in the end the Wild Bunch was a bit of a lukewarm experience. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but if I had to name one thing that I didn’t really like, it was the rather slow moving pace around the middle part of the story. You do get some minor insight to the characters during this time period that was okay, but somehow it felt a bit, well, not superficial but certainly not that particularly interesting. It was a bit strange how nobody really managed to make an impression to me despite the amount of talent involved.
For whatever reason the movie basically just didn’t properly click with me, which is why while watching it I did start to wonder at certain points just why this was considered such a so revered classic. It was only when I reached the climax of the movie in Mexico and the final bloodbath began that I kinda started to understand it. It was like the floodgates were opened and you were suddenly drowning in the surging waves of non-stop violence. The appeal of the movie is essentially the nihilistic spectacle of magnificent violence. That is how the movie starts and that is also how it ends, it has come full circle. The middle part was nothing more than the characters trying to escape their inevitable fate and explain to us who these men were and why they deserved to die as they do. The ending came close to redeeming everything that I found a bit dull about the middle parts of the movie, but doesn’t quite close the deal. So, in the end the movie ends up not being entirely my cup of tea, but it had its moments.