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The Wild Bunch (Director's Cut) (1969)

The Wild Bunch (Director's Cut) (1969)
Rating:
Running Time: 145 min.

GreenCine Staff Pick: While the words "director's cut" today often mean "bloated DVD," the director's cut of Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch is an important improvement. While it now runs at a lengthy 144 minutes, the restored scenes add a great deal of emotional weight to the film; whereas it previously felt a little cold around the heart, several scenes revealing the previous history between William Holden's Pike and Robert Ryan's Thornton flesh out these characters' complex motivations. And the film itself remains the same superbly crafted, gritty, violent and, yes, poetic piece of cinema it's always been. There are certainly a few cheesy touches, random cinematic flourishes and some odd editing - but Peckinpah was never one for subtlety, and the ballets of violence, especially in the brilliantly edited shootouts that bookend the film, influenced a generation of directors (for better and worse). But it's the quieter moments, framed by Lucien Ballard's superb cinematography, that surprised me upon revisiting the film: the downtime, the characters catching their breath in the great outdoors or in Mexican villages, and most especially in the final moment with Ryan's character just sitting, thinking about everything that had transpired before; again, a scene that now carries more weight in the restored version. The casting is perfect, with underrated Warren Oates and Ben Johnson (a former cowboy himself, and a future Oscar winner for The Last Picture Show) as child-like brothers, a rip-roaring Ernest Borgnine and an unforgettable, unrecognizable Edmond O'Brien as the cantankerous coot Sykes. But Holden and Ryan in particular shine, as the aging robber and the former cohort now chasing after him. Set in 1913, as cars begin to replace horses, Wild Bunch is an elegy to the American West and the Western genre, predating by 30 years cable's similarly revisionist and gritty Deadwood. Depicting the last of the old guard of outlaws fading into oblivion, virtually embracing death, the film is certainly nihilistic, but remains savagely beautiful, too.

The audio commentary over the film is by four enthralled film scholars in what is alternatively highly engaging and, when they step over each other or try to out-pretentious each other, irritating, but there are enough nuggets in their thoughts to make it worthwhile. The bonus disc contains three(!) docs on Peckinpah and on the film; best of those is the 82-minute "Sam Peckinpah's West: Legacy of a Hollywood Renegade," which is narrated by Kris Kristofferson. It's a must for fans of the director's work, or those who become fans after watching this film. -- Craig Phillips

The Wild Bunch (Director's Cut) (Bonus Disc) (1969)
Running Time: 145 min.
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