Review: The Perfectly Executed Crime Thriller ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ (1967)

+ Recommended – R, Crime, Biography, Action (111 minutes) 


New wave styles were implemented into American cinema as well. A notable addition to the style was Bonnie and Clyde (1967). As far as intense violence goes, there had never been such a film as this one. Director Arthur Penn wasn’t shying away from exploring the gritty reality of crime or pseudo-sexual undertones of society. Penn’s strong direction can be found in shifting from a more traditional style of camera work to hand held motions. In the very beginning, the audience is put in the bedroom of a girl who’s clearly completely naked, which is uncomfortably voyeuristic for the audience. But the camera motions are frantic and fleeting, making the audience question whether it is okay to watch.

As Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) gazes at Clyde Barrow trying to steal her mom’s car, she seems fully content with facing the street and revealing that she isn’t wearing any clothes. This provokes both to make conversation with each other, and it’s revealed that Bonnie is charmed by her new friend. Clyde explains that he has spent time in prison for armed robbery and she seems intrigued, yet skeptical. It isn’t until he shows his gun that Bonnie suddenly becomes very interested in Clyde and touches his gun; this action has sexual implications. Later on, Clyde implies that he isn’t capable of having sex, harkening back upon the sexual tone of the beginning when Bonnie touches his gun.

In many ways, new wave cinema is a deconstruction of the basic aspects of filmmaking. Beforehand, it was part of the Hays Code that filmmakers weren’t allowed to show explicit violence and sexual themes, the primary exception being sword and sandal films, which even showed same-sex relationships, under the veil of historical accuracy. Now, these standards were being challenged: Bonnie and Clyde opens with a title sequence that intercuts pictures with the production credits. The names are first highlighted white but then shift to a blood red just before their name disappears. In many ways, this was powerful symbolism for taking something pure and corrupting it (much like what people thought of new wave cinema).

When comparing the beginning to the end, it starts off innocent and funny but then sharply turns dark. The moment the Barrow gang stops robbing banks and begins to run from the law, there’s a shift in tone and style. In each firefight, Dede Allen’s editing style completely enhanced the intensity of the scene. It’s sharp, and leaves plenty  of room for rapid reaction shots from both the police and from the gang members. Even with the rapid cuts, each character is allotted at least one moment to reflect on the recent events. Only one music cue occurs, and that’s during one of the final moments between Bonnie and Clyde, just after a sequence of implied sex, when they are expressing their love for one another. Most of the scenes, especially the robberies and the firefights, are done without music; paired with rapid cuts, these moments appear to be more intensely focused on realism.

In the final moments, Allen ensures that each character gets an ending and a final send off. When C.W.’s dad betrays the gang, C.W. watches as Bonnie and Clyde leave the general store and run off to their death. C.W.’s dad gets multiple shots: one in which the camera pans to the left for several frames until it stops on him and an officer talking in an ice cream shop and the other one when he sets the trap for Bonnie and Clyde, just before he dives under the truck to save his own skin. For Bonnie and Clyde, it’s a very specific moment intercut between rapid shots in which there is one very tight eye match before they are both gratuitously shot to death. This style of filmmaking, from light to dark, revolutionized the way in which films are made today.

Image via Warner Bros.
Image via Warner Bros.

Author: Jared Charles

I am the owner of The Burrow Reviews. Currently studying Film, English, Political Science, and Gender Studies.

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