Rural Shoot-Em-Up

I was determined to try and cut Bruce Beresford‘s Bonnie & Clyde miniseries a break. The only fair way to watch it, I decided, was to at least temporarily erase the memory of Arthur Penn and Warren Beatty‘s 1967 classic. But I couldn’t do it. I tried but I couldn’t. Beatty and Faye Dunaway‘s Clyde and Bonnie had an irrepressible charisma, vulnerability and turbulence of spirit, and Emile Hirsch and Holliday Grainger‘s…I don’t want to be cruel or dismissive, but Beresford’s version just doesn’t cut it. It feels like a Depression-era crime story re-styled by for 2013 generation and re-enacted by the C team. But show me any decently assembled documentary about the real-life pair and I’m hooked. It’s not the song, it’s the singers.

Nearly 10 million watched last night’s two-hour opener. (It concludes tonight.) What percentage even knows about the ’67 version, much less has seen it? I would be surprised to hear that more than 1% of last night’s audience knows of the Penn-Beatty-Dunaway version. We live in degraded times.

I just can’t understand how Beresford, one of the leading lights of ’70s and ’80s cinema, has evolved into a seemingly rote-minded, run-of-the-mill TV director. I can’t decide if he peaked with Breaker Morant (’80) or Tender Mercies (’83 — still an exquisite relationship film), but I know that King David (’85) and Crimes of the Heart (’86) were at least decently made and respectfully regarded, and that Beresford’s last industry-friendly hurrah was the much-derided-in-hindsight Driving Mss Daisy (’89).

“Comparisons with Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde are pretty extraneous a half-century down the road, but, really, it’s hard to ignore the contrast,” wrote N.Y. Times critic Mike Hale. “Zeroing in on Barrow and Parker’s short time together, Penn pioneered the artful presentation of extreme violence yet also convincingly rendered the texture of rural Texas in the Depression era and showcased bravura performances by Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.

“The television Bonnie & Clyde, written by John Rice and Joe Batteer and directed by Bruce Beresford, is thoroughly inoffensive and resolutely middle-of-the-road, a big slab of a story about a doomed love affair between two nice, good-looking kids who had some really bad luck. As Barrow and Parker, Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild) and Holliday Grainger (The Borgias) are both older than their characters were when they died — Barrow was 25, Parker 23 — but they seem too young, too feckless, too clean. You don’t believe that these lightweights grew up in poverty or lived on the run or gunned down a series of lawmen, even as you watch them doing it.

“Mr. Beresford (Tender Mercies, Driving Miss Daisy, Breaker Morant) gives the sentimental material a corresponding autumnal glow, and there are sweeping, lovely images of Texas fields under big skies, a shimmering crescent moon and an oil refinery sparkling in the night. A lot of trouble and expense appear to have gone into making the period details persuasive, but there’s still an artificial, playacting quality that may have to do with the actors or may be an inevitable consequence of high-definition viewing.”

  • pizan܍amore

    “Beresford’s last, blue-chip hurrah was the much derided Driving Miss Daisy”

    Black Robe is a stronger work than Driving Miss Daisy.

  • Jeff

    Where did Hirsch’s career go so horribly wrong? This guy was a budding movie star 5-7 years ago. Not saying I am a fan, just wondering what the exact moment was where it turned for him.

    • NephewOfAnarchy

      I assume the exact moment was Speed Racer. All the breakthrough momentum from Into the wild quickly got cancelled out by that. Still, he’s around in a lot of indies but it was kind of weird to see him like ninth billed in Savages when a couple of years prior he would have been in the running for one of the leads.

      • Jason T.


      • Brian Bouton

        Chim Chim agrees.

  • fahrenheit290

    Bonnie and Clyde (67) is a directorial masterpiece. It should’ve won the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Director. There are so many stunning sequences, and Penn was a great director of actors. Still holds up tremendously well. I saw a little of the tv show last night, but it didn’t grab me.

    • Bob Loblaw Lobs Law Bomb

      Yes — Bonnie and Clyde (67) is all execution. There’s nothing inherently interesting about the Bonnie and Clyde story itself, especially nothing that needs a 6-hour miniseries.

  • Steven Gaydos

    Did anyone else read the LA Times story about this project? Am I the only one more than a little surprised that Beresford was repeatedly complaining about not having time to shoot the script? I’m sure there were several TV exex especially in the pr corp gulping Maalox as they were reading.

  • Magga

    I bet there are more young people today who have seen Bonnie And Clyde than there were young people who had watched nearly fifty year old movies back in 1967. There are arguments to be made for degraded times in cinema terms, but cinema knowledge and access to information is not one of them.

    • Jeffrey Wells

      Different equations. Kids in 1967 who had watched “Million Dollar Movie” on WOR-TV as kids knew of several older films, I’m guessing. Today you can learn about any topic in history in a matter of two or three minutes via Wikipedia or Google, but the person in question has to be curious to do a Google search about whatever. And I swear to God the curiosity levels about the past, about anything that doesn’t immediately smack of right fucking now, are pretty low these days.

      • Brad

        “blah, blah, blah … I have nothing with quantifiable facts or anything to offer, just insufferably cliched cynicism about the STATE OF THINGS and other such cliches”. You can barely stay in the cinema for the entire length of a film at the past couple of film festivals (unless there was AWARDS BUZZ for the film), so stop trying to project your own lack of curiosity onto other people, OK?.

  • Brian Bouton

    With all the great television series on the air, THIS is what gets you to watch? Sigh…

    • HarryWarden

      I wish January would get here so HBO’s True Detective with Matt McC and Woody H could debut. Looks awesome.

  • K. Bowen

    Saw Bonnie and Clyde during the Cinemark Classic Series earlier this year and was very glad that I did. The final scene still shocks. But it’s the emotional undercurrent of liberation that’s tremendous.