Positioned as THE MOVIE EVENT of December, the latest incarnation of the Bonnie and Clyde legend was simultaneously broadcast on THREE major networks over a two night period. That's right, the History Channel, A&E, and Lifetime all dedicated a massive chunk of their programming space for this handsome, if somewhat unenlightening, adaptation. With all the promotion, I had looked forward to "Bonnie and Clyde" for almost two months before it aired! I am a big fan of Arthur Penn's 1967 theatrical version of "Bonnie and Clyde" with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. That picture netted ten Academy Award nominations and was an audacious piece of work for its time with its depiction of stylized violence and a wicked sense of humor. I thought, however, that the television format (and longer running time) might actually add insight to the criminal pairing and their exploits. Instead of opting for this approach, the two part movie chose instead to take huge liberties with the tale (an odd choice, really, considering the involvement of the History Channel) and plays by all the expected rules of a conventional TV biopic. While well produced and great looking, though, I never really emotionally connected with this version.
The movie casts a couple of appealing actors in the leads. Emile Hirsch makes for an earnest Clyde Barrow and Holliday Grainger has plenty of sass as the fame loving Bonnie Parker. Both are fine, but Grainger really connects with the wildness of Bonnie (a far cry from Lucrezia Borgia in Showtime's series "The Borgias" which I loved her in). Her obsession with celebrity (or infamy) is one of the production's strongest elements. The couple start out as depression era heroes to many, but soon find the violence escalating and their popularity waning. If you know the story of Bonnie and Clyde, this version doesn't offer much in the way of new information. The screenplay gives Clyde a form of precognition so that he sees the imminent danger their path is taking them on, and he seems to struggle with what they've become. But I never fully connected with his plight.
Holly Hunter is on board as Bonnie's mother and William Hurt is a lawman on their tracks. But while both actors are terrific, they enjoy limited screen time. Another major character of this version is portrayed by Elizabeth Reaser as a reporter who is initially fascinated by the pair before being disillusioned by their brutality. I suppose, in many ways, she is the moral compass of the picture and is meant to represent popular opinion. The other members of the gang (brother Buck and his wife Blanche, for example) don't have a lot to do ultimately and it's a shame. In the original movie, Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons, and Michael J. Pollard all scored Supporting Actor/Actress nominations for their work. So I was surprised to see these roles a little more downplayed than I expected. In many ways, this entire production rests on the shoulders of Hirsch and Grainger.
In the end, "Bonnie and Clyde" is entertaining enough without being particularly special or noteworthy. The production design is good and everything looks quite snazzy. But the story itself falls a little flat, especially considering the colorful material they had to work with. As I said, if you want pure historical content, this won't fulfill those needs. I just wish it would have been more impactful from a dramatic standpoint as well. I was happy enough to view "Bonnie and Clyde" once, but I probably wouldn't choose to sit down and watch it again. It is what it is. And that's a well made TV-movie that doesn't enrich the legacy or story of Bonnie and Clyde in any substantial way. If you like Grainger, though, it might definitely be worth a look. About 3 1/2 stars. KGHarris, 12/13.