The Wild Bunch, 1968. Directed by Sam Peckinpah. William Holden, Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates.

A gang of outlaws make one last score in a raid that goes violently wrong. They flee the scene of the crime in a hail of bullets and make for Mexico. Once there, they become involved with revolutionary intrigues as one of their number takes revenge on his faithless woman. The Wild Bunch makes a final stand against the Mexican army, going out in a blaze of glory.

This dark masterpiece of adult, thinking-manšs cinema is, of course one of the great westerns--one of the great movies, in fact--and watching it anew on the big screen the way it oughta be is a revelation. Apart from its striking first sequence, calculated to brush away preconceptions at the start, and its last sequences, this is a remarkably average movie. It isnšt terribly different from the other westerns being made at the time. The ŗaverageness˛ of The Wild Bunch is a booby trap. On the surface it seems safe enough and for most of its length the audience is able to recover their composure. And then The Apocalypse happens. As a commentary on the West, on the Western, on America and Americans, and on individualism, the conflagration which comprises the last fifteen minute of this movie is as incendiary and as biting as anything produced in Hollywood before or since. And the bookend image at the start of the movie--the ants taking down the scorpion only to be burned along with it--is one of the bitterest indictments of the human condition on film. It makes almost everyone elsešs movies look like they are playing with toys. One for the ages.


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