The Wild Bunch
(United States, 1969)

The Wild Bunch is not a typical Western, but it is one of the best. In a genre that has become defined by clichés, The Wild Bunch transcends the boundaries usually placed on this kind of motion picture. No small part of the credit for this goes to the director, Sam Peckinpah - the legendary figure whose unique style (which often features graphic displays of violence) has influenced an entire generation of filmmakers. Martin Scorsese (amongst others) has openly admitted how forcefully Peckinpah impacted his approach to directing. Most film scholars and casual viewers alike would agree with the statement that The Wild Bunch represents Peckinpah at the height of his powers. Not only does he tell a compelling story, but he interweaves themes of great social relevance. The Vietnam aspect may not be timely today, but the corruption of innocence angle is as important now as it was more than three decades ago. The Wild Bunch has a broad enough canvas that it can be enjoyed by those who are not Western aficionados. However, for those who have a fondness for the genre, this is a genuine classic - a riveting motion picture that leaves impressions that linger.

Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
The movie opens during 1913 in the small south Texas town of San Rafael. The Wild Bunch -- a gang of six -- has moved in to pull off a robbery. What they don't know is that it's a setup -- the sacks of money are filled with washers and there are dozens of gun-toting bounty hunters hidden in ambush. Things turn bloody and numerous innocent citizens are caught in the crossfire. The gang escapes with the bounty hunters hot on their trail. Leading the Wild Bunch is Pike (William Holden), an aging outlaw who enjoys planning his capers as much as carrying them out. He's beginning to feel his age, however -- an old wound makes it nearly impossible for him to mount his horse and he wonders how many more jobs he'll be good for. Pike's right-hand man is Dutch (Ernest Borgnine), another grizzled veteran of the robbery circuit. The gang is rounded out by Sykes (Edmond O'Brien), Angel (Jaime Sanchez), and the Gorch Brothers (Warren Oates and Ben Johnson). One member of the Bunch is missing, however. Thornton (Robert Ryan), once Pike's closest friend, was arrested as a result of a past screw-up, and now commands the mercenaries hunting his old buddies.

It's possible to view The Wild Bunch as a straight action picture, albeit a highly stylized. All the traditional elements of the genre are present: shoot-outs, male bonding, and a high body count. The director's methods of orchestrating tension are such that the movie has its fair share of edge-of-the-seat moments. But there's a lot more here. The Wild Bunch has level upon level of complexity even beyond the obvious metaphor of Vietnam, and has been structured to satisfy the more discriminating movie-goer. Not only does The Wild Bunch illustrate Peckinpah's mastery of his medium, but it presents a story that is effective on nearly every level: the emotional, the visual, and the visceral.

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