I know many tend to recognize George Roy Hill’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as a classic but I always had been struggling to connect with it in the manner I see others do. That’s not to say it’s a bad film in the slightest but given the film’s reputation, I strangely found it of all things to be quite a slog to sit through from beginning to end in spite of elements that come along that could easily provide an entertaining ride. I’ve grown up on Paul Newman when I was younger, but even with that said I was never all that big a fan of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid at a younger age. Hoping to find much more to appreciate this time around, instead I found myself at distance like always.
There’s a specific feeling to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid that tries to evoke a feeling that older Hollywood westerns have been carrying, which is one aspect to this which I find highly admirable. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid came at the end of an era for the Hollywood western, the same year in which another revered western had come out, that one being Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch. Where I’ve always found myself nonplussed was how Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had grown to become the more popular western that year especially because it seemed to downplay what we’ve admired about the greatest Hollywood westerns down to a level of camp that never sat very well with me.
At least Paul Newman and Robert Redford have made for an entertaining duo to watch from start to finish. The bond which George Roy Hill forms between the two is without a doubt the most interesting thing about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, for the manner in which they bring energy to the titular characters and their exploits. It’s admirable how George Roy Hill characterizes them from their own trials and the film finds its very highest points there onward. This aspect alone prevents Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid from being a complete bore, but unfortunately it did not help that the whole time I felt so heavily disconnected from the lead characters, who just seemed to have no real development whatsoever.
The plot is where I feel Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid fails to live up to its reputation as a classic. For the whole time, I could not help but feel it was so uneventful. Whenever we see an exploit from the Hole in the Wall gang take place on the screen, the transitions often felt so abrupt for the manner to which we have a focus on a single exploit just seems to ramble in one place before moving onto the next. I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that the film was relying way too much on the energy which Paul Newman and Robert Redford are creating and then it just forgets how it wishes to detail the significance of such an event within the lives of the duo, only pushing me away more from what I’m imagining had been intended for such a film.
William Goldman, a screenwriter who can be rather phenomenal with the way in which he writes words, has such a messy script that really shows especially when it comes to the film’s choices of tone. Granted the dialogue is rather excellent, but just thinking about the manner to which it meshes serious moments to much more cheerful moments just eliminates the cohesiveness which would normally have me much more engaged with the trials of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It was for reasons like this I only found myself all the more distanced from the final product, for instead of being able to connect with the titular outlaw duo I was only watching fragments of different films telling their take on the story.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a classic in the western genre and I can see why some would hail it amongst the best of the kind, but it was never a film that I felt connected with. I appreciate it to some extent, but if we’re to talk great Hollywood westerns coming out right at the end of an era, I’m going to take The Wild Bunch over this. A film that details the trials of outlaws much like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid should have left me much more excited than this one did, as while it is sporadically charming, it also feels like such a slog to sit through given its uneventful nature. It isn’t a bad film by any means, but considering the reputation which it managed to garner over the years, it is heavily disappointing.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Fox.
Directed by George Roy Hill
Screenplay by William Goldman
Produced by John Foreman
Starring Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katharine Ross
Release Year: 1969
Running Time: 110 minutes