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Review The Wild Bunch (1969): Certainly remarkable on a couple of fronts but can it still be called a classic?

genre: western, action, adventure

Many times I have tried to watch the film completely and many times it failed to grab my attention. This time I made sure I kept watching but even then I managed to get distracted by other worldly things. Usually when a film is good I don't have this problem at all. Not that I am saying it's not good. Because it certainly contains some elements that were ahead of it's time. Unfortunately I can't praise the film as much as fans do.

Let me start that it is clear that director John Woo was inspired or influenced by Sam Peckinpah in the way he would direct, choreograph and edit action scenes. Although it has to be stated that John Woo took it to a whole other level. There have been quite a few directors who have been able to succesfully mimic Sam Peckinpah like Walter Hill and Michael Mann. But there still hasn't been one director who has equalled John Woo when it comes to the highly stylized and hyperkinetic action. However I can't deny that the final shootout in The Wild Bunch is a real joy to watch. Even for me who already was familiar with Woo's work I was impressed. Imagine what it must have been like for people back then who had never seen such a thing on screen before. Most westerns were clean and bloodless. This was bloody, violent, dirty but beautiful at the same time. 

Most people seem to praise the dirtiness of the characters and the world these characters move in. And perhaps it is a good depiction of what it was like in the Old West. And I do think it is very refreshing to see heroes who basically are everything but heroic. I mean for example you see the main characters use innocents as human shields so that they themselves don't get hurt or caught after being ambushed by the law. Granted the "law" aren't squeeky clean themselves. Still, no need for the goons to get innocent people involved. However if you think about it it is a realistic approach since this kind of violence usually leads to people getting wounded or killed. The main characters lack motivation and purpose. They basically wander from heist to heist, drink, eat and have sex with prostitutes. Maybe some people lived like that and it's historically accurate. But for me personally this is boring to watch. I think this could have been compensated if the characters actually had engaged into some decent dialogue. The good acting do provide that something extra only it's not enough to remain compelled. Sergio Leone's The Good, The Bad and The Ugly also displayed nasty characters. But it came with a magnificent soundtrack and the main characters had very interesting dynamics. Plus it had so much else going on in the background. It's a western I can watch over and over again. Perhaps this is a mistake since that is almost an absolute and perfect masterpiece and it's not fair for these to be compared. I just saw a list on the interwebs where someone put The Wild Bunch above The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and The Searchers on the very top. I haven't seen that last one yet. So I can't say too much about it. However if The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is not on top, the list is wrong. But I will get back to this notion when I actually have watched The Searchers so that I can be fair.

Anyways not much is going on in The Wild Bunch. And perhaps that was the point. But did it really need 145 minutes to tell me this? There is no doubt that The Wild Bunch has good elements but as a total package it failed to grab me since it simply is lacking in many ways. Yet I can't deny that there is some charm to it. But it's something that can be hit and miss depending on your mood. 

So can this still be called a classic? I am sure to many it is. Unfortunately for me it doesn't meet the requirements. It's not one I can watch over and over again, at least not without getting bored or losing interest. And that to me is the most pivotal factor.


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