Brief Synopsis: How can a TV movie compete with Arthur Penn’s great American classic, “Bonnie and Clyde”? Wisely, this four-hour effort doesn’t try. Where the film is in essence a romanticized fable, the TV version is a more literal biography with a few misplaced artsy flourishes, mostly built around Clyde’s supposed “second sight,” which allows “Bonnie” to feel more like an expansion than a remake. It does drag a bit, and while it effectively re-creates hardscrabble life in the Depression-era Southwest, its take on that life isn’t always clear. Did hard times turn the pair into criminals or were they criminals waiting to happen? But it understands that its first job is to make us believe in Bonnie and Clyde and commit to their story. And that it does, perhaps not brilliantly, but well.
“Bonnie and Clyde,” the 1967 film that propelled Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway to stellar status, popped up on Turner Classic Movies recently.
I sat down to watch and found myself mesmerized all over again: the humor, the heartbreak, those intriguing performances by Beatty and Dunaway as the Texas-born outlaw couple who became the stuff of legend; not to mention Arthur Penn’s gritty direction, which made you actually feel the Depression.
It’s a hard, if not impossible, act to follow, but TV is attempting it nonetheless. “Bonnie & Clyde,” a new four-hour miniseries, bows on three cable channels Sunday and Monday.
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In its corner is a team of pedigreed filmmakers: director Bruce Beresford (“Tender Mercies”) and producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron of “Chicago” fame.
Emile Hirsch, who was so raw and memorable in “Into the Wild,” plays Clyde Chestnut Barrow, and the wickedly fetching Holliday Grainger of Showtime series “The Borgias” takes on Bonnie Elizabeth Parker.
Adding more heft to the project are two Oscar-winning supporting players: William Hurt as Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, the lawman who was bent on stopping the murderous pair, and Holly Hunter as Bonnie’s disapproving-yet-devoted mother Emma.
The miniseries is being billed as a “major TV event.” “Bonnie & Clyde” will be simulcast at 8 p.m. Sunday and Monday on Lifetime to grab the gals, on History Channel to get the guys and on A&E for everyone.
Is it worth your time? Yes and no. The production is sturdy, the leads are sexy and stylish, and if you’re a true-crime buff, it provides a more comprehensive history — accurate or not — of the young woman and man who became Bonnie and Clyde.
In fact, the mini starts as far back as Clyde’s birth into a poor farming family in North Central Texas and shows his evolution from petty criminal to young prison inmate to cocky killer.
We also get to know Bonnie a little better pre-Clyde, how she suffered from panic attacks and aspired to improve her station in life by sending photos of herself to Hollywood.
Once they’re together, the two ignite the kind of youthful fireworks that movies like “Twilight” bank on.
However, the miniseries is much too long. Bonnie and Clyde just aren’t remarkable or interesting enough to warrant four hours of television time. The middle part not only feels repetitive, but moves like a snail.
The final hour, which closes in on the pair’s bloody end, does contain some compelling drama. But to get there, we must first endure all kinds of silliness: scene after scene emphasizing Clyde’s rumored psychic abilities and a truly awkward patch about a female newspaper reporter who’s encouraged by Bonnie to publicize the pair with alluring stories of their exploits.
I was reminded of another TV “event”: the 1997 Stephen King-produced miniseries of his novel “The Shining,” which also was too busy, belabored and full of unnecessary padding.
Just as that version made me long for the shorter, starker Stanley Kubrick stunner of 17 years earlier, this new “Bonnie & Clyde” only deepened my appreciation of the more economical Penn classic.
Still, this “Bonnie & Clyde” does deserve credit for one thing: It presents a point of view and a rather risky one at that. Here, Bonnie is painted as the colder, more ruthless of the pair. She keeps pushing a somewhat reluctant Clyde to do bigger, showier jobs in hopes of keeping their names high in the press.
By the end, her insensitivity to the suffering and death around her is so vile, you may find yourself cheering on that eventual barrage of bullets.
‘Bonnie & Clyde’
When: 9 p.m. Sunday and Monday
Where: Lifetime, History, A&E