copyright © Jedo Dre 2011

At the beginning of the film the opening credits keep interrupting the movie. That is really annoying. Now moving on.

The film is about the adventures of a gang of outlaws, and to a lesser degree a gang of mercenaries hired to bring them down. The new world is closing around the outlaws and the age is also starting to catch up with some of them. As far as Westerns go, this is the least original premise you could go with. However, that is just the skeleton. The film succeeds in strapping enough meat onto that skeleton to make the movie interesting and exciting. The storyline is loose, more of a set of adventures rather than a cohesive whole, but it is interesting nonetheless.

A lot about Wild Bunch feels like a modern film. It is quite gritty; the music has modern rhythms; the characters are dark. In older westerns, whenever bandits are made to be the protagonists, they are also made to be misunderstood souls full of heart. In the Wild Bunch the outlaws, despite being the protagonists, do some pretty reprehensible things…well, at least sometimes.

Perhaps the largest problem with the film is that it takes too much freedom with its characters (and by extension its story). The film starts showing the bandits as crazed violent people, but it appears that the makers could not resist adding more honor and humour to these gangsters, perhaps out of fear of making them too unlikable to the viewer. And so towards the end of the film they start acting more and more like heroes. Two of these guys in particular are portrayed as greedy criminal side-kicks in the beginning but in the end they get heroic for no particular reason other than "Why not?", as one of them put it.

In fact, the whole tone starts shifting together with the characters and becomes more and more light-hearted towards the middle of the film.

Besides this strange character identity issue, the acting is actually quite good. Of particular note is the Mexican warlord played by a gentleman named Emilio Fernández. On paper that character is just a power-hungry warlord but the Mexican actor breathes life into the character with good facial expressions. He is perhaps the most memorable character in the film.

There is unfortunately a good deal of overacting, like people laughing hysterically when there is nothing funny to laugh about. In fact, there is a lot of that in this movie.

For the most part the film looks good. It has good atmosphere with its smoky Mexican villages and bath houses and mountains. There is however a problem in this film from which many of the modern action movies suffer: the cuts during the main action scenes are too fast. You lose track of what is going on.

The music does not have a memorable tune for you to whistle, but is nonetheless interesting because it has a lot of modern asymmetry, with many different instruments coming in to do the various tasks required each time and doing so using special rhythmic patterns.

There is a recurrent little tune and when I heard it I immediately felt that these guys were ripping off The Magnificent Seven, until I found out that The Magnificent Seven came out 10 years after this movie. Food for thought… This film is not perfect. There are little things like a scene where you hear a man talk, but can see his mouth is not moving. There is an issue with the character development and an issue with the mood. There is just something off about its whole structure, including characters and story. Having said that, it still feels worth watching for its off-beat violent delivery and good atmosphere.

The Wild Bunch