USA 1972 : Sam Peckinpah : 122 mins
Doc McCoy (Steve McQueen) masterminds a small-town bank robbery. It’s a messy heist, and when Doc and wife Carol (MacGraw) make off with the loot, they find their problems are only just beginning. Peckinpah brings some unexpectedly arty touches to his adaptation of Jim Thompson’s hard-boiled novel, deploying disjointed sound, freeze frames and slow motion to constantly keep us on our toes. But he never loses sight of the movie’s real meat – a series of tense scenes as the McCoys cope with the unwelcome attentions of rival crooks determined to get their hands on the ill-gotten gains.
Peckinpah often stages the violent confrontations in front of ‘civilian’ onlookers, frequently children: the gunplay, car smashes and general hyper-activity emphasise the sweaty stasis of the convincingly ‘real life’ Texan background. But just as seasoned pro Doc’s patience is repeatedly tested by Carol’s cack-handedness, so MacQueen’s icy expertise emphasises MacGraw’s glaring limitations – her non-performance almost torpedoes the entire enterprise.
Peckinpah’s no-punches-pulled toughness prevents things bogging down for too long, however, and until the latter stages he captures a fair amount of Thompson’s no-nonsense energy. But his finale is pretty much a travesty: while no Hollywood movie could ever have concluded with the book’s spectacularly bleak, black joke, it’s painful to see scriptwriter Walter Hill taking such a lame, sunny route as an alternative. A starker contrast with Thompson’s nightmarish vision is hard to imagine.
3rd October, 2001
(seen on video, Sep-18-01)
by Neil Young
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