Loosely based on historical fact, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid tells the tale of two infamous outlaws, their exploits and their run from the law. Butch (Paul Newman) is the leader of the Hole in the Wall gang, who rob banks and trains. The Sundance Kid (Robert Redford) is Butch’s right hand man. Problem is, the ways of the old wild west are coming to and end and civilization, law and order are creeping closer to the gang. After robbing the same train once too many, Butch and Sundance realize they’re being tailed, and they can’t seem to shake their trackers. After some daring escapes, they decide to go to Bolivia with Sundance’s girlfriend Etta Place (Katharine Ross). Bolivia should be far enough away from the law, right? But a whole new world of challenges are there, and I can’t help but remember what Uncle Remus said, “You can’t run from trouble, there ain’t no place that far.”
The movie starts off well with some good old things we come to expect in westerns. There’s gambling, some fancy shooting, a rivalry within the gang that Butch handles easily and a couple train robberies. Those are all fun, especially the great scene where they use too much dynamite and blow the whole train car to toothpicks and the money just flies around them. I cracked up.
After that, it becomes a very slow chase. Through rocky desert, canyons and jumping into the river, it’s a great time to show off the beautiful land, but that excitement felt in the beginning is gone. Soon they meander to New York for some photos and wind up in Bolivia. When they arrive and see nothing but crumbling buildings, a family of hogs and a llama we were thinking the same thing: Why the hell would they pick Bolivia? Because it has a nice ring to it? One thing to remember is that these were outlaws, not geniuses. Not everyone in history made very good decisions.
In Bolivia, they fall back into old habits and start robbing banks. Once they learn how to speak a few Spanish phrases, that is. Nothing like pulling out a crib sheet in the middle of an armed robbery. It’s funny, absurd and starts to bring back that fun we felt in the first half hour.
What the film does best is cinematography. In the beginning we’re shown a little silent film explaining just a bit about Butch, Sundance and the Hole in the Wall gang. Then the film starts up, borrowing the same sepia tones as the silent film and photos of the time and continues for a few scenes. Color is introduced when we follow the duo out to the desert and there’s plenty of natural scenery that would be best in color. It’s affective and the camera always captures the natural beauty we associate with the old west.
While I have some mixed feelings about the whole film, it ended well for me. In the final scene, that excitement and gun-slinging that I was hoping for was back. If it wasn’t for that very bad-ass last stand, I would have been disappointed. This is not your typical western, Butch and Sundance have too many funny lines for that. I usually enjoyed their banter, but it seemed too cute for outlaws at time. And though Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head won best original song, the music just feels jarring in a western. I mean, this was a western right? It looks like it, but doesn’t sounds like it.
“You just keep thinkin’, Butch. That’s what you’re good at.”