The first on-screen pairing of Paul Newman and Robert Redford, and the film that largely cemented Redford’s status as a rising star, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is one of the most iconic westerns in cinema. It is largely because of this film, I suspect, that I and many other people know of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, who were real-life figures active around the turn of the century, 1900. I don’t know enough of the actual figures to know whether this film lives up to their legacy, but if Cassidy and Sundance are to be remembered for anything aside from their notorious string of robberies, this film is a pretty good way to be immortalized in history.
Cassidy and Sundance are nearing the twilight of their careers, and pressure from a gang of lawmen tracking the pair after a botched train robbery convinces them, along with Sundance’s girl Etta Place, to flee to Bolivia. The film recounts the pair’s journey to South America, as well as the tumultuous love triangle between Place and the two men, before their past finally catches up with them. This buddy film, which a few other reviewers have noted seems to have typified the genre of buddy film that would follow in the years to come, is different from most in that the two “buddies” of the film, at the start, already know each other and are well acquainted. This isn’t an origin-heyday story; this takes place near the end of the two men’s lives, or at least as far as we know of their lives. The film starts off with an exquisitely shot sepia-tone sequence that introduces the two men, and as lovely as it was to look at, I grew concerned that the whole film would be in this doused-in-paint sepia, which I knew would quickly grow tiresome to my eyes. Thankfully, the next scene transitioned into regular color, and the sepia tone would be reserved for select moments throughout the film. The Oscar-winning cinematography was quite surprising with all the colors the screen often had, in contrast to the dusty motif of the typical western, and it was a nice bit of fresh air. What really surprised me was how cavalier the attitude of the whole film was. I was expecting this sort of ultra-serious western, like a mix of The Wild Bunch and Hombre, but this one had a much lighter tone to it than that, which mostly came from the extreme levity of the music, helped along by the Oscar winning original song “Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head”. And, of course, I shouldn’t end this without mentioning the acting of the eponymous duo, which was solid across the board.
For whatever reason, I was hesitant to like this one, probably mostly because I was expecting a dourly-serious western like I mentioned above, but this grew on me the more it went on. I don’t know if I would call it a must see, especially with the inundation of westerns already on the list, but I’m certainly okay with others giving it the label if they want to. This even got a slew of Oscar nominations, including Best Director for George Roy Hill and the big Best Picture, which, for a western in the waning days of the genre’s golden age, must’ve been quite an achievement. I wouldn’t expect too much from this one, if you do decide to get into it, but if you do decide to get into it, I wouldn’t be surprised if you end up really getting into it. I did, and I wasn’t expecting much, so you never know; give it a try.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10