There’s a special sort of romanticism with the notorious criminals Bonnie and Clyde. Over the years, their glorified deaths, under a hail of bullets in 1934, have captivated the public’s attention. Their offenses, depicted in films starring such actresses and actors as Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, have influenced popular culture and immortalized them as the ultimate do or die iconic couple. All the sex, drama, and violence surrounding their rampage in the South have the makings of a Lifetime movie; so it’s no surprise the network revitalized the couple’s harrowing tale in the unprecedented two night event, Bonnie & Clyde, starring Emile Hirsch as Clyde Barrow and Holliday Grainger as Bonnie Parker.
One of the most notable things about Lifetime’s depiction, directed by Academy Award® winner Bruce Beresford, is the narrative structure. Often, we see the story told from a third person perspective without much of an internal idea as to what propelled these two individuals to lead a life of crime. Well, Bonnie and Clyde takes the unique angle of guiding the story from Clyde’s standpoint. Hirsch narrates the beginning with a Tom Sawyer twang that has a nice subtle charm. It’s hard to ignore his inevitable fate but his performance makes Barrow a likable character. It’s the first time we get a chance to know the person behind the infamy.
Bonnie & Clyde begins prophetically at the end with a bullet ridden car rolling up the street with two dead bodies. It’s a bitter reminder of Bonnie and Clyde’s inevitable fate before flashing back to all the events leading towards their demise.
We are taken back to Clyde’s childhood where we learn about critical events that mold his character. The most significant event happens while in the throes of a dangerous fever. Clyde has a vision of a beautiful woman who he thinks is his angel; this experience has a profound influence on him, and soon we discover Clyde has a deep psychic intuition—a gift that later comes in handy when escaping law enforcement. The psychic visions are a nice twist, but considering this is a historical drama, based on true events, the inclusion of a paranormal component lessens the credibility of the story. The truth itself is melodramatic enough without needing to add anything else. Luckily, it doesn’t play too heavily once Clyde meets Bonnie.
For the first 15-20 minutes of the miniseries, we see Clyde’s life evolve from petty crimes to much more serious ones. Later, his crimes become more austere as he starts robbing banks with his brother Buck (Lane Garrison). After a time, Clyde winds up seeing his “Angel” again in Bonnie Parker when she is celebrating her wedding to another man. You can say this is the beginning of the end because once she catches Clyde’s eye, it’s all over.
Clyde’s life gets worse when he lands in jail after running into Bonnie again. She’s estranged from her husband, which makes it ideal for Clyde. For a moment, there’s a nice sort of Romeo and Juliet sensibility for these star-crossed lovers. Yet, as part one of the series later reveals, the feelings may not be entirely mutual.
Another shift in perspective with the story behind Bonnie and Clyde is the motivation behind Bonnie’s search for fame. Perhaps due to the story being told from Clyde’s point of view, the image of Bonnie has changed a bit. However, what we get in exchange, for clarity, is Bonnie and her insecurities.
Holly Hunter plays Bonnie’s mother, Emma Parker, in a role that feels somewhat wasted; Emma is subdued and almost a wisp of a character. She enables, more than disciplines, Bonnie, particularly as depicted when Bonnie has what looks like an epileptic fit when her screen photos are rejected by Hollywood studios. Emma reassures her daughter everything will be ok, placing the photos in a box full of clippings and accomplishments.
After seeing Bonnie’s interaction with Clyde, it’s apparent she is the brains of the operation, encouraging him to continue on their crime spree for the money, and later, fame. Once again, Buck makes his way into Clyde’s life to assist. This time, he brings along Blanche (Sarah Hyland)—his lady love—to the fold. When one of their heists go terribly wrong, resulting in their first murder, there’s no going back, and the gang engages in a killing spree that crosses state lines, becoming front page news.
Bonnie’s lust for success is a product of her failed attempts to garner attention from Hollywood studios but that doesn’t stop her. She audaciously contacts reporters to sell her story; PJ Lane (Elizabeth Reaser) is the reporter Bonnie entices with exclusive material that later plays a big part in the makings of their notoriety.
The Bitter End
What can be said about Bonnie &Clyde? It’s fairly predictable; however, the twist in the end is a more frustrating than enlightening, which is the core of the miniseries’ main flaws. Although Bonnie and Clyde does a fine job of trying to reveal an alternate side to the real story, it does so at the expense of the characters themselves. Bonnie is shown as nothing short of heartless ambition, so much so it places doubts about her true affections for Clyde. Then, there’s Clyde’s constant foreshadowing, which gets redundant after a while. But the most annoying element of the entire miniseries is the way it demonizes Bonnie in order to somehow exonerate Clyde; it’s almost Adam and Eve biblical in the way it shows Bonnie tempting Clyde to crime.
That being said, there are some nice supporting cast members, which makes the story more poignant. William Hurt as Frank Hamer—the Texas Ranger whose orders to kill them remain a point of controversy—is notable in his performance as he’s one of the few characters that doesn’t come across as too much of a caricature from that era.
Overall, the series does a great job of capturing the atmosphere of the time with great attention to costume and cinematography. The cast of actors assigned with the task did their best with the script provided to them. The script, in its attempts to provide a more accurate portrayal of these larger than life people, achieves the opposite. It sensationalizes Bonnie as an overzealous egomaniac who is turned on more by her need for fame than her love for Clyde. Meanwhile, Clyde is depicted as a victim of Bonnie’s femme fatale wiles.
Bonnie & Clyde was an opportunity to revitalize the legend of one of history’s most infamous couples. Instead, the plot is slightly underwhelming, and the lack of focus on Bonnie’s backstory regarding her own family is a disappointment. Yet, despite those issues, Bonnie & Clyde still remains a fascinating subject and worth watching for fun.
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