The Wild Bunch (1969) Directed by Sam Peckinpah
Sometimes I need a pick me up. Something to re-energize and not only get the creative juices flowing but the mind dreaming and thinking. I can get this from various sources: good conversation, music, books, movies, football but ultimately friendship. Loyalty and doing something special for someone you care about has it's own benefits. I'm always reminded of the closeness of good friendships when I watch The Wild Bunch. The Wild Bunch is often remembered for it's bloody violence and Peckinpah's slow motion action sequences. There is so much more here, the real message in this picture is about redemption and doing the right thing.
The Wild Bunch are a group of outlaws looking for one last heist so they can get out of the robbing game. They're getting old and looking to settle down, in a changing Western landscape that is leaving them behind. Peckinpah's casting for The Wild Bunch is not only acknowledgment of the old west, but also a tip to old Hollywood, The Wild Bunch a calling card as much as any picture for the change happening in American film during the late 60's. So we have old actors like William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Edmond O'Brien and Ben Johnson leading the action of a Peckinpah's picture, giving one last hurrah before the new acting gods take over. Thrown in is Peckinpah's own on screen alter ego Warren Oates, requisite for the wild of the title.
Holden is the emotional core of the picture. Troubled by the betrayal of an old friend who now hunts him down, Holden's Pike Bishop is not only the groups' planner and leader, but he's their moral compass. His beaten body is a metaphor for the weary struggle the group face in constantly being on the run. The Wild Bunch disagree constantly, and macho stand offs are constant between themselves. But Peckinpah shows us the crude humor and closeness of The Wild Bunch, which lends complete credibility to the massacre at the end. These friends will ultimately die for each other. The stand off in Mexico at the end is about loyalty to a friend and doing it for the hell of it, because there is nothing better to do than going out in a blaze of glory. It's this sense of morality mixed with rebelliousness that ultimately makes The Wild Bunch such a moving picture.
Peckinpah's film looks exquisite, especially the Mexican scenes. He imbues his film with documentary like scenes just showing how it is. The Wild Bunch has had influence, you can catch it in the films of Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, The Coen Brothers, John Woo and others. They still miss the emotional qualities Peckinpah brings to his cinema, often just aping the technical aspects. Better was still to come from Sam Peckinpah with the melancholy grace of Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid. But The Wild Bunch was his initial roar, his first film that showed his vision complete. It's acknowledged for sure, but The Wild Bunch is still inspiring and still a masterpiece.