Any retelling of the story of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow will undoubtedly be compared to the 1967 Warren Beatty/Faye Dunaway classic, which many critics list as one of the greatest movies of all time (it currently ranks 42nd on A.F.I.'s top 100 list). While I've never been that taken with the 1967 movie (although I do like it), I can certainly say that 'Bonnie & Clyde' – a made-for-television mini-series that aired over two nights simultaneously on the A&E, History Channel, and Lifetime networks – pales in comparison to the earlier film. With that in mind, this current adaptation (which is presented here in a single, nearly three-hour-long version) still has enough going for it to warrant a viewing, even if it's by way of a rental.
'Bonnie & Clyde' casts Emile Hirsch and Holliday Grainger as its two leads, and the first half of the movie takes time to show what in their backgrounds led to the criminals that they would become. Raised in Texas in the years leading up to the Great Depression, Clyde got involved in crime at an early age, stealing chickens with his brother, Buck. Bonnie, also raised in Texas, was a good student with a love for theater, who got married (and separated) at 16, and desired to become famous either through her writing or by becoming a movie star.
Since most, if not all, of us already know Bonnie and Clyde's fate going into this, Director Bruce Beresford (who helmed the Oscar-winning Driving Miss Daisy) bookends his movie with the aftermath of the ambush that killed them. One of the more interesting (and bound to be controversial) theories in Beresford's presentation is the idea that Clyde allowed himself to be drawn into the ambush, knowing that it was the only other option than a lifetime in prison.
Less controversial and more downright silly is the idea that Clyde had second-sight, and had visions of many of the events that occurred to him before they happened. It makes for a more interesting movie (and provides an answer for how Bonnie and Clyde eluded the law for so long), but it also takes the film out of the category of 'docudrama' and more firmly plants it in the 'based on a true story' realm that so many movies that take liberties with the truth do.
Despite the presence of notable actors William Hurt (who plays Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, the man who tracked down and eventually commandeered the final ambush of Bonnie and Clyde) and Holly Hunter (playing Bonnie's mother), the best performance in 'Bonnie & Clyde' comes from Holliday Grainger, who fills her Bonnie Parker with both a sexiness and instability that makes her character by far the most watchable in the entire movie. Perhaps much like the real Parker herself, Grainger's performance leaves no doubt of who is in charge and Hirsch's Clyde often comes off as the lesser of the two in scenes between them.
Director Beresford (off a script by John Rice and Joe Batteer) seems to know that he can't hope to match the 1967 film, so he provides a lot of what the theatrical version didn't – namely in terms of sexuality and on-screen violence. Yes, this is still very much a broadcast cable movie, but it still manages to push the envelope with a few provocative shots, a few naughty words, and plenty of bloodshed.
While 'Bonnie & Clyde' doesn't provide enough to warrant repeat viewings, I didn't feel like I wasted my time watching it, either. It's well enough made for a television production, and is sprinkled with decent performances (the best being Grainger's, the worst being a woefully miscast Sarah Hyland (of Modern Family fame) as Buck Burrow's wife, Blanche). I certainly can't tell you to rush out and pick this one up, but if you're looking for a solid rental, 'Bonnie & Clyde' is worth a viewing.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Bonnie & Clyde' shoots its way onto Blu-ray in a Blu-ray/Ultraviolet combo pack, with two Blu-ray discs housed in a standard Sony keepcase – the kind where you have to flip up the plastic flap on the side before opening it up. Disc 2 (a 25GB disc containing the bonus features only) is housed on the inside left, while Disc 1 (a 50GB disc containing only the movie) is housed on the right. The reverse side of the slick (seen from inside the box) contains a publicity photo (the scene depicted isn't actually part of the movie). An insert contains the code for an Ultraviolet version. A slightly embossed slipcover fits overtop, with artwork matching that of the slick.
Neither disc is front-loaded with any trailers, other than the brief Sony Pictures Home Entertainment logo and F.B.I. copyright warning. Both of the main menus feature promotional artwork of the two lead actors, with menu selections along the bottom of the screen.
While the cinematography/direction of 'Bonnie & Clyde' retains a very much 'made-for-TV' look to it, the actual video transfer here is really well-done. Shot in HD, the Blu-ray shows off some wonderful details (despite the cinematography being rather unimaginative, the production value is impressive) with lush colors that really provide the kind of 'pop' one likes to see in a high-def title. Black levels are deep and inky, so even nighttime sequences fail to become soft or murky.
About my only issue with the video lies with an aesthetic choice made by the director (or perhaps the cinematographer) in the use of lens flares. While 'Bonnie & Clyde' never enters J.J. Abrams territory, it does seem as if almost every headlight, lamp, candle, sunset, and – in one particularly glaring incident – a saxophone being played by Clyde, give off flares that often stretch to the point of distraction.
Colors are properly saturated and fleshtones are well done, often showing fine details. I didn't notice any obvious issues with compression, artifacting, or banding. Again, most of the issues that viewers may have regarding the video will have to do with cinematic choices, rather than ones dealing with this transfer, which is close to top-notch.
English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is the only available track for the movie, and it's a good one, with gunfire being dispersed across speakers, a nice sense of directionality, and even some impressive low frequency moments for one's subwoofer. Dialogue is primarily front and center, but crisp and clear. Everything is also well balanced, so neither the musical soundtrack or the occasional gunfire ever drown out the spoken word. There are also no obvious issues with dropouts, distortion, or other glitches. All in all, a mix that is very satisfying, particularly for a made-for-television production.
Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, French, and Spanish.
'Bonnie & Clyde' is neither something most viewers will want to watch more than one time nor something that is totally dismissible. While it pales in comparison to the 1967 theatrical release, it does cover a lot of material that the Beatty/Dunaway film did not. Even though it plays fast and loose with some aspects of the historical Bonnie and Clyde, this is probably the most loyal adaptation of their story, if not the most entertaining one. If you find yourself stuck at home on a rainy (or snowy, as was my case) afternoon, 'Bonnie & Clyde' makes for a decent rental.