Gen Z Reviews Classic Movies | 'Bonnie & Clyde': Does the film's violence hold up to today's standards?
When it first came out, 'Bonnie & Clyde' shocked critics and audiences alike in terms of the violence depicted onscreen. However, in the decades since, both film and television have only gotten increasingly violent, as audiences call for more and more blood. How does 'Bonnie & Clyde' stack up on the 53rd anniversary of the year it was released? We review the film from the eyes of a new generation and see how the film stacks up against the violence depicted in movies today.
'Bonnie & Clyde' covers a wide range of emotional ground, but for the most part defaults to near-slapstick comedy, telling the jolly tale of a group of bumbling, small-town hicks living up to a legend of nationwide criminals, a tale that has only grown in the telling. Neither Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) nor Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) are particularly clever, brave, daring or even especially violent individuals. One memorable scene sees Clyde licking his wounds after a fight, baffled that anyone would attack him after he held them up at gunpoint. "I ain't against him," he repeated, shocked that violent threat was met with violence in kind.
Bonnie, Clyde, the three who later join them to form the Barrow Gang, are all reactive, reckless thieves with no sense of a plan, running from one bank robbery to another. The movie suggests that their infamous crime spree was largely the Barrow Gang being pinned for additional bank robberies they didn't commit. The Gang, for the most part, doesn't seem all that concerned over the crimes they commit — even after they kill people and when their own lives are the ones at risk. The only music that plays is the upbeat country banjo music that accompanies their getaways. This movie is very nearly a flat-out comedy.
The movie is more than just its comedy, however. It does not overlay music onto every scene, and instead lets the background noise of each scene just be. The wind, the rustling of sheets in the bedroom scenes, the sounds of footsteps, the engine of a car. Where music is commonly used to guide audience emotions during a film, the lack of it makes a powerful statement of its own.
'Bonnie & Clyde' is a rare film that will let you hear all the sounds of a quiet room. There are several scenes that could go either way — from comedy to bleak horror; from heartwarming to inspiring. There are no tells for what any given scene is going for, leading to some truly shocking moments cropping up where they were unexpected. It's what makes the violence all the more shocking when it comes.
While the movie may glorify the morals of Bonnie and Clyde, painting the latter as a good man just doing his best in desperate times and the former as a woman who simply dreams of a better life, the violence itself does not get the same glorification. When it shows up, it is shocking, sudden and unexpected. None of the action scenes are polished for maximum effect — the first fight between Clyde and the man who tried to kill him for being held at gunpoint is a realistically clumsy affair, with both men rolling around the ground desperately trying to get control over the situation.
The first sight of blood seems out of place in what had, up to that point, been an easygoing romantic comedy. It's how violence ought to be portrayed. Unexpected, sudden, and shocking — out of place in a world that had, up to that point, seemed relatively pleasant. The gunfights are loud, a garish collection of chaos in explosions and each time, the Barrow Gang only just narrowly gets away.
Today's films tend to favor a certain amount of smoothness in its action scenes. Slow-motion reveals poetry and grace in movement, perfectly timed kicks and well-choreographed stuntwork, and every new film that comes out seems to find new ways to make the action as smooth as possible. 'Bonnie & Clyde' leans into the chaotic mess that violence brings and is all the more impactful for it.
The movie is well worth its status as a classic. While it is not one that sets its protagonists up as the legend that's talked about, it is an impactful, memorable movie. They don't make films like that anymore — it's a style that may have gone extinct. While it's far from perfect and roughly edited, the film and its style of storytelling is one that's worth appreciating and a story well told.
'Gen Z Reviews Classic Movies' is a column that revisits some of the greatest films of all time and discerns how they hold up decades later