Thursday, January 23, 2003

The Killer Elite, The Wild Bunch and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia
Peckinpah Films in Spades: Some Violence to Keep You Warm on These Cold Nights

Sometimes you rent one film by a director and next thing ya know you're on a bit of a kick and so it goes with Peckinpah. Beautiful choreographed violence, with a little dash of machismo tossed in, plus some misogyny, honor and betrayal are all present in the three films. Oh yea- did I mention bullets as well? Lots of 'em.

Starting with what is referred to as a "modern" Western, "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" from 1974 stars Warren Oates. He is outstanding in the role of pianist Benny on a quest to retrieve Garcia's head for a Mexican rancher for the sum of $10,000. The film follows Oates on a hellish road trip accompanied by his hooker girlfriend Elita all the while being followed by bounty hunters and rapists (one rapist played by Kris Kristofferson). The cinematography is superb in this film, especially the shots of the Mexican countryside. Mexico is depicted in general as a fairly abysmal place- all gritty and unforgiving- basically a metaphor of the inner life of the Oates character. The stylized shoot em' up ending scene is predictable and yet compelling. Is the film a gratuitous violence fest or maybe just a blatant metaphor for how greed corrupts? Maybe it is just a character study of a sad, desperate man and his sad depressing life. Definitely a compelling and riveting watch.

Okay on to the uninspired thriller "The Killer Elite." Released in 1975 the story goes like this: James Caan plays freelance hitman Mike Locken employed by the CIA during the 1970s. His pal and fellow hitman Robert Duvall betrays him when he renders Caan a cripple with shots to his arm and knee- but doesn't kill him. This sets up the rest of the film as the film unfolds with Caan physically rehabilitating himself, getting together with the cute nurse, and goes on a quest of revenge after Duvall. Unfortunately the film has too much of Caan and not enough Duvall. Maybe Peckinpah had to make the mortgage payment and just cranked this out. Apparently he did make the film at a period when his career was at an all time low so atleast it kept him employed. The film is too long and its one redeemable quality- outside of the casting of Duvall- is the stylized karate scene in the ending shipyard scene. It really is a beautiful.

Okay saving the best for last. The Wild Bunch, released in 1969, is a brilliant film that elevated the Western to an art form. Inspired dialogue, cinematography, editing, soundtrack, and acting combine for a full-on cinematic moment in time. Before this film "the Western" was considered a hackneyed genre and afterwards it gained renewed respect. Never before had violence been rendered so realistically. By  today's standards the violence may seem a bit tame but when someone gets shot in this film you feel it. The story is pretty basic: set in 1913 bounty hunters led by Pike Bishop, played by William Holden, rob a bank in Texas and flee to Mexico with Pike's old buddy Deke Thornton, played by Robert Ryan, hot on their trail. Ernest Borgnine and Warren Oates both are great. The group of outlaws has their own set of ethics and honor code. One riveting scene of children dropping a scorpion into a sea of ants resonates. Who knows what the scene is a metaphor for- if any- it is just one of many powerful scenes in this amazing film. Go rent it now if you haven't seen it- you won't be disappointed..