“Bonnie and Clyde” (1967) by Arthur Penn

Bonnie and Clyde is without a doubt one of the most influential films ever made—influencing such diverse films as Terrence Malick’s Badlands (a superior film) and Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers (an inferior film). It is also a very good film. It is NOT, however, a great film.

The comparison between this and Malick’s Badlands is a good one. Bonnie and Clyde does contain some potshots at the media, and the way they make celebrities out of killers, but it is neither too deep nor profound. Never are Bonnie and Clyde themselves really sketched as three-dimensional characters, and we never get a very good understanding of them. In Badlands, the entire film is told from Holly’s subjective point of view, and thus we grow to understand her, and why she fell for Kit and went on this wild killing spree with him, even if Kit remains a bit of an enigma—although Martin Sheen gives a truly great performance.

Granted, Faye Dunaway is a great actor, and gives a damned good performance, and Warren Beatty also does a good job. But the two don’t really seem to share anything in common, nor do we ever see their relationship develop. This lends a certain aloofness to the whole proceeding, that doesn’t necessarily work here. Although Stone’s Natural Born Killers is not as good a film, at least there the film is so pedal-to-the-metal in its style and its vicious attacks on the media that the human dynamic between Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis doesn’t even matter anymore. Bonnie and Clyde has no such excuse.

The reason, however, I do recommend it is that it is indeed a very entertaining film. The revolutionary technical pyrotechnics may not be as “shocking” as they were 4½ decades ago, but it’s still a very fast-paced and energetic tale, extremely well-told, minus some of the rambling indulgences and excess fat of Stone’s later…whatever-the-hell-it-was. Thus, I can ultimately recommend it as a good, solid bit of entertainment, although not a great work of cinema nor art, by any stretch.