Bonnie and Clyde. Arthur Penn’s attempt to make an American “outlaw” film with French New Wave style and youthful exuberance proved an outstanding success with audiences, who appreciated its antiestablishment politics. Critics, too, eventually applauded the director’s effort to infuse American cinema with a new energy and seriousness. However, Bonnie and Clyde was roundly condemned on its release for its graphic depiction of violence. Technological developments had made it possible to show gunshot wounds more realistically, and Penn’s camera often lingers on the effects of bodies being torn apart and on the pain and suffering that results. Previous American films, of course, had often centered on violence, but Bonnie and Clyde was the first Hollywood picture to make the spectator strongly experience its horror and, even, mesmerizing beauty.
Initial reviews of the film were dismissive, even condemnatory, but the tide of critical opinion soon dramatically turned. Alternating effectively between scenes of terror, brutal realism, and almost slapstick comedy, Bonnie and Clyde is loosely biographical and has a very realistic feel due to meticulous art design and location shooting in northeast Texas. With some historical inaccuracies, it traces the exploits and eventual tragic end of the Depression era’s most famous bank-robbing duo, who in their own time were celebrated as folk heroes. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway are scintillating as the criminal couple, while terrific support is provided by Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons, and Michael J. Pollard.