A low-key appraisal of the legend, and the times in which he lived, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is a strange and convincing Western. Set in the final decades of the Nineteenth Century, this is a period of flux for the United States.
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This film is what it would look like if Antonioni made a Western. People criticize Peckinpah for his violence but they very rarely talk about the poetry in his films which is very much on display in this great film. Nobody dealt with complex male relationships the way Peckinpah did.
"Desire" list: Kris Kristofferson, the singer-actor in the splendor of himself, a righteous face with an underlying lyric. Contrary to the precept too often quoted by John Ford in "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," Peckinpah does not create or copy a legend but sings a folk ballad, in which the characters are not examples of anything but of their smallness before history and their grandeur in the detail of a rhyme.
The usual superlatives hold true; this is Peckinpah's final statement on the end of the "west", on violence, on masculinity, on the passing of tradition. When Garrett shoots out his own reflection following the death of the Kid, it communicates so much about this loss of identity, the self-hated & the disillusionment felt by those who saw their country slowly slip away from them as one generation gave in to the next.
While it's made with a lot of emotion, sometimes it doesn't translate well to the screen. There are moments where the action is confusing, simply because of how underplayed it is. Aside from that, some scenes felt oddly paced, and I think that is a great flaw. Like the moment where the man dies, and seconds later they're chasing turkeys. And then more people die. It's a bit grating. But Katy Jurado! She stands out.
PGaBTK is often seen as a bleaker vision of Peckinpah's West than The Wild Bunch, and possibly this arises because there is an inversion of the focus of the earlier film, in that the Judas tale -that of Garrett- takes on greater resonance than that of the outlaw; Garrett is the real outcast, forever sauntering around the picket fence of respectability. A masterful film made with an overwhelming intensity of feeling.
This is not the hippie Billy the Kid. I insist this is a proto-punk-rock country western outlaw (duh) Billy the Kid. This is my favorite of Peckinpah's BIG films. Always has been. I am not so sophisticated that I cannot be won over by a film that mostly exists to help me differentiate different strata of cool. In what sense is Kris Kristofferson a "kid"? (He doesn't look like one.) Look deeper. Take notes.
Some truly beautiful moments of sadness with one of the best ending to any western. This is probably Peckinpah's most beautiful film. Sadly, unlike most westerns, its use of music left much to be desired as Dylan's song never felt right to me and often broke the tone of the scenes. In fact, the only time music is well used is in the ending, since there's no lyrics to it. In short, Dylan should have let the music talk
Criticized it for its longueurs & detours, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid is a great western. A sad & pathetic character study of a sellout who kills his best friend to conform to authority, Peckinpah's film isn't the most uplifting experience. But for those who want a honest exploration about the Old American West & the disenchantment of a nation, here is a poetic dirge that ruminates the death knell of a time gone by.