Directed by: Arthur Penn
Premise: A dramatization of outlaws Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker (Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway) as they rob banks and elude law enforcement.
What Works: Bonnie and Clyde is an extremely important film in the gangster genre and it is an excellent piece of filmmaking. The film has a pair of terrific performances by Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway as Bonnie and Clyde, and the two actors exude a passion and an anarchic energy that makes the film work. The film is also very well shot and edited and although contemporary action films are bigger and louder, they are rarely better than what is achieved here. For better or worse, Bonnie and Clyde is probably the de facto example of a film glamorizing criminals and killers. As such the film presents a serious ethical problem for the audience. The film invites viewers to partake in the joy that Bonnie and Clyde took in their lawlessness and it portrays gun fights and bank robbing with the same cinematic tones and techniques exhibited by coverage of extreme sports.
What Doesn’t: The ending of Bonnie and Clyde is very abrupt, which is clearly an intentional feature, later echoed in the conclusion to Brian De Palma’s Scarface. Although this ending is consistent with the story and the style of the film, it is also harsh and some viewers might find it callous. But it is a necessary ending, and through its violence and coldness the film resolves its invitation to the audience to indulge in a sociopathic fantasy by bringing that fantasy to a very real conclusion.
DVD extras: The Ultimate Collector’s Edition includes trailers, documentaries, wardrobe tests, and deleted scenes.
Bottom Line: Bonnie and Clyde is a great piece of film. It is shocking and manipulative but it uses its outrages to set up a tragic ending that is far more effective in conveying a sense of social responsibility than many so-called public service messages.
Episode: #246 (July 12, 2009)