It’s a troublesome task attempting to remake anything, let alone trying to retelling a true story which has already spawned a much-loved film, with only a network TV budget to work with. That cocktail of bad omens is probably where the problems began for Sony’s Bonnie & Clyde TV mini-series, which has now been released as a just-shy-of-three-hours filmic version on DVD.
Speaking of bad omens, one of the first and most puzzling problems you’ll notice when watching this new Bonnie & Clyde is the fantasy-esque precognitive abilities Clyde Barrow is suddenly endowed with. Stemming from no Google-able historical evidence whatsoever, Clyde is now seen having weird premonitions of his future fate, even as a boy decades prior.
The addition of this jarring plot device so clearly drawn from fiction sets the warning bells off right away, with more historical guess-work and shameless fictional interjections soon turning up to confirm your doubts. As well as being gifted with flash-forwards akin to Anakin bloody Skywalker, the legendary outlaw Clyde is now also packaged up as a ‘little ray of sunshine’ who was more than happy to make a baby, settle down and keep out of trouble before the troublesome Bonnie Parker started egging him into a life of crime.
Now, seeing the psyche of Bonnie questioned and explored in more detail is something fans of the original film and fervent historians alike would both probably sign-up for, but neither will be happy with the results here. Bonnie, who is widely regarded not to have been the gun-toting cigar-chomping aggressor she playfully pretended to be in the famous photos, is nothing short of a murdering psychopath by the final act of this adaptation – she straight-up kills a man while Clyde steals his car in one scene, and mercilessly opens fire on a group of cops with a tommy gun in another.
This is evidence of the main problem here: that everyone involved in devising this new televisual retelling seems to be far more interested in an exciting fictionalised version of events than any sort of attempt at realism. Let it be stressed that anyone with a vague knowledge the perceived facts, or a loves for the original film (which, while not perfectly accurate itself, was certainly closer to the truth), will find plenty to get peeved at in this long slog of a watch.
Thankfully, when attempting to look at this film/TV event as mere entertainment (as it was surely intended), a few saving graces rear their heads. The biggest of which is arguably Holliday Grainger’s multi-faceted performance as this newly-darkened Bonnie. She frighteningly intimidates journalists in person, becomes briefly and worryingly dependant on drugs and conveys her post-murder guilt through some well-acted and intoxicated sultry seduction. She’s undoubtedly given a lot more to do than the newly troubled-Jedi version of Clyde, and uses it well to spin her own version of Bonnie into an engaging, intriguing character. It’s this performance which enables the final confrontation with the police (which is refreshingly well-shot by the otherwise-struggling Bruce Beresford) to retain some emotional impact.
Unfortunately, for every positive there is a swathe of negatives, with the soundtrack tootling along as if someone typed ‘generic 30s ditties’ into Spotify and just left it at that. Emile Hirsch also struggles with Clyde’s new force powers and delivers a wooden performance that can largely be blamed on the script he’s given. The additional gang members and in-pursuit lawmen fare no better, with William Hurt’s enjoyably stern retired ranger Frank Hamer being the exception. It’s worth noting too that the costumes and cars are beautiful.
Unfortunately the direction certainly isn’t, with seemingly little thought given to cinematography or even camera positioning – erroneously allowing its TV-sized budget to show in an age of so much sterling small screen action, mid-shots are framed lazily around everything from action scenes to big emotional moments, as if getting a few claustrophobic close-ups or adding in a few more angles to heighten the tension would’ve cost a bit much. This stand-offish direction leaves big potentially-character-developing moments like Clyde’s time in prison glide but ineffectively.
Sadly, it’s difficult to recommend this DVD as anything other than some nicely dressed people, a decent ending and a couple of good performances -as a whole it simply doesn’t work at all.
Bonnie & Clyde is out on DVD now.
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