Review: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
You've just gotta go see this...
As a 33-year-old moviegoer I find myself wanting something different from most of what Hollywood has thrown at my generation - more than the magic formulas of CGI and plots that seem to have come from the multiple stomachs of a cow, regurgitated only to be eaten and regurgitated again.
I'm sick of the same old thing. Which is why I've begun to cast my eye on the golden era of film when the story, the characters and the actors who played them were everything or the movie was nothing. So what better place to start than an old film about the olden days?
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a cowboy movie starring Paul Newman as Butch. Before he was famous in the supermarket sauce aisle, Paul Newman was one of the coolest male actors to hit the screen. Co-starring is the pretty boy of my parents' generation, Robert Redford.
Something about the DVD cover - two staunch, manly cowboys looking as cool as Johnny Cash - reminded me of a time when my mother would stick plastic cowboys on my birthday cakes, which were, of course, lined with chocolate fingers to represent a fort, reinforcing my gender role and instilling in me a desire for good old-fashioned rugged living... and chocolate fingers. But I digress.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a character-based tale of two nice guys on the wrong side of the law. They're the kind of criminals who will stick a gun in your face, take all your money and then ask if you're okay before riding off into the sunset, and though you might feel down about having lost all your money, you might be tempted to give them directions before they go because they're just so neat.
Butch originally leads a gang of baddies, called the Hole in the Wall Gang, in a train robbery when the banks are beginning to prove too tough for an honest crook to make a living. But after their first attempt at robbing a train goes surprisingly well, their second try sees them busted by the catalyst for the film - a posse of professional lawmen determined to bring down Butch and his boys.
For me this is where the film really got interesting, as Butch and the Sundance Kid are tracked across the majestic wilderness of the Midwest by these relentless men of Justice.
The clever thing about this part of the movie is you never really see their pursuers, beyond their horses kicking up the dust in the distance. The sense of urgency as the two outlaws run for their lives through the barren lands of cowboy country makes you cringe in suspense, while at the same time appreciate what an incredible feat police work must have been in the days when there were no helicopters or CCTV to help you along the way. It came down to the basic and brutal "Find 'em, chase 'em, kill 'em" mentality that here has you almost on the edge of your seat.
To lose their tracker's trail, and after reading in the newspaper the finer details about their pursuers, the two men team up with Sundance's 26-year-old schoolteaching girlfriend Etta and flee to Bolivia, where Butch has read somewhere that the grass is greener for men like them.
The movie cuts there in a bizarre slideshow of sepia moments as the three fugitives travel, in style no less, to their destination, waving goodbye to the land of liberty to gain liberty.
Once in South America they set out to establish themselves as bank robbers, only to discover that the language barrier is going to be a problem, so they take Spanish lessons. The irony is beautiful as the two even try to straighten themselves out by joining the workforce, only to become the guys at the other end of another robber's gun.
Director George Roy Hill captured the hard West in a way that resonated with me, not because I have any idea what the 19th century was like for Midwestern America, but because as I watched this film I couldn't help wondering where I could get a corduroy jacket as cool as the one Robert Redford was wearing.
All that aside, some creative film techniques made the story far less boring than it might have been, namely the sepia intro of a silent movie depicting a 1920s-style re-enactment of the Hole in the Wall Gang getting sprung while the opening credits rolled. Then the actual film begins, still in red and brown tones for a while, helping to create an atmosphere that says, "Hey, this is the olden days, okay? Now let's switch to colour." And then the film opens into a vista of hues which unveil the wild environment of the cowboy days.
The other thing that jumps out is the curious choice of music throughout the film, whether it be a montage establishing Butch and Etta's sexually charged and yet apparently neutral relationship with a bicycle to B.J. Thomas singing Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head, or the threesome's spate of bank robberies to, gee, I don't know what kind of music that was but it sure blew apart my preconceptions about Westerns having a lot of harmonicas, banjos and strong whistlers. I guess the "modern" take on the music in this film made the characters somewhat relatable: you could accept that this was 150 years ago but the characters were no less flesh and blood than you or I.
And as a point of fact, this movie was loosely based on true events.
I don't really have anything bad to say about this film, except that the story lost it for me when they went to Bolivia, especially considering the tension and suspense that accrued during the chase sequences as they fled the mysterious dispensers of justice. Had I been director I would have run with that to the bitter end, but then again this film wasn't really about that, it was about the mateship of two guys caught on the wrong side of the tracks, who stick by each other to the bitter end.
It's hard to give it a rating, especially because I kept wondering when a mysterious Time Traveller was going to appear or whether they would meet Yul Brunner in Michael Crichton's West World... but there's always the simple question, "Did I enjoy this film?" to which I would reply, "Yes, indeed I did."
You've got to go see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
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