Judge Clark Douglas is public enemy number 4,384,293,842.
You know their names.
"All this for forty-six dollars in the till."
Facts of the Case
Clyde Barrow (Emile Hirsch, Into the Wild) and Bonnie Parker (Holliday Grainger, The Borgias) both had fairly ordinary childhoods and were raised to be decent, respectable citizens. Alas, life dealt each of them just enough bad cards to turn them into ruthless hellraisers. When the couple decides to start robbing banks together, they begin gaining notoriety nationwide and are even celebrated as folk heroes. Alas, that notoriety comes at a price.
Bonnie and Clyde was a pretty big event. Bolstered by a huge ad campaign and airing simultaneously across three television networks, it generated rather impressive ratings upon its arrival in December of 2013. It's also one of the most unnecessary productions I've seen in recent times. This tale was already told in dynamic, riveting fashion in Arthur Penn's 1967 film, and this new one has nothing to bring to the table except a much longer running time and a considerably shallower perspective. As directed by Bruce Beresford (of Driving Miss Daisy fame), the miniseries is the sort of bland, tasteful, technically solid yet agonizingly stiff period drama that gives the genre a bad name. How is it possible to turn the larger-than-life tale of Bonnie and Clyde into something so dull and routine? Perhaps it was to be expected that the series couldn't live up to the classic film, but it surprisingly can't even match the modestly involving melodrama of Hatfields and McCoys (its most obvious inspiration).
Over the course of three long hours, Bonnie and Clyde aimlessly checks a series of historical boxes without tying them together in any sort of dramatically satisfying way. Countless little real-life tidbits from the lives of the two central characters are noted and given self-contained scenes (from Bonnie singing a scandalous ragtime number at her father's funeral to Clyde's prison rape), but then the film simply shrugs its shoulders and moves on to the next thing. It's technically closer to the official record than the Penn film, but much less interesting. The psychological complexity of that film has been eliminated entirely, though not the psychology: there are entirely too many of Clyde's dream sequences, including one in which he imagines an innocent white rabbit being gunned down by the FBI (you see, the rabbit is Barrow, and the FBI is the FBI). Another change: while Warren Beatty's version of Clyde struggled with impotence, Hirsch's version is a ratings-friendly sex machine.
While one might applaud Beresford and co. for attempting to deliver something that sticks closer to the historical record, there's no reason for it to be this tedious. Almost all of the actors seem uninterested or misdirected, playing their roles in the most simplistic and obvious way possible. I've been a defender of William Hurt even in roles many others have scoffed at, but this time he looks as if he'd rather be taking a nap. Holly Hunter does good work as Bonnie's mother, but never gets anything of interest to do. Sarah Hyland (of Modern Family fame) is terribly miscast as Clyde's sister-in-law. Hirsch fares best as Clyde, but given the thin nature of the script, he's often left with no options other than furrowing his brow and delivering his flat dialogue with measured intensity.
The ultimate problem with Bonnie and Clyde is that it feels exactly like you would expect a forgettable TV movie about the duo to feel. It lost me from its irritatingly obvious opening scene: a flash-forward that features Hirsch softly telling Bonnie he loves her before both are shot down in a hail of gunfire (immediately followed by pounding opening credits that seem better suited to a CSI-style procedural). Thanks to the formulaic nature of the tale and the clunky foreshadowing employed at every corner, there wasn't a single scene that surprised me or rose above basic technical and narrative competence. It's not the worst television miniseries of all time, but it's exasperatingly typical.
Bonnie and Clyde (Blu-ray) receives a handsome 1080p/1.78:1 shooting that highlights the film's tasteful production design. It's too tasteful, in fact: the sets look like sets rather than lived-in locations. Still, detail is excellent and depth is strong throughout. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track has quite a bit of kick to it during the action scenes, and does a nice job of accentuating John Debney's score (mostly a solid effort, though I could have done without a couple of weirdly anachronistic cues—they're best described as "bluegrass disco"). Supplements are limited to four featurettes (housed on a second disc): "Iconography: The Story of Bonnie and Clyde" (15 minutes), "Becoming Bonnie" (10 minutes), "Becoming Clyde" (5 minutes) and "A Legendary Story Revisited" (16 minutes).
There's absolutely no reason to check out this bloated miniseries when the lean, gripping 1967 film is readily available in hi-def. Skip it.
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