Armed with an all-star cast and what must be a decent budget, "Bonnie and Clyde" is a three-hour TV miniseries production of the couple's crime spree. Sony Pictures Television built the program (two parts on TV, one part on Blu-Ray) up as a big deal, splitting the presentation among three different networks (A&E, History, and Lifetime), but the effort doesn't live up to the finished product. Glitz and glamour aside, it's a bland sit that pads out the sex and violence with unnecessary backstory that feels more like a screenwriter's half-assed attempt to give their choices psychological or emotional weight than actual insight.
With superheroes big at the box office, it's not surprising that some TV exec had the bright idea to tell the story of how Bonnie and Clyde came to be who they were. After a brief peek at Bonnie and Clyde's violent end, the story jumps back to times of youthful innocence, when Bonnie nearly dies having an asthma attack at a studio rejection letter, and Clyde's mostly content working a regular job to help support his family. Framing the film with their deaths is a logical enough course of action, but if the film's goal is to humanize them, it's a mistake to lead with the legend rather than a character study. Worse, screenwriters John Rice and Joe Batteer don't even capitalize on this angle, filling in all of the gaps with lazy voice-over by Clyde with chestnuts like "nothing was ever gonna be the same." Instead of including, a scene showing Bonnie making the decision to join Clyde in a life of crime, the film abruptly jumps to a moment when they're robbing a bank, stumbling forward through their crime spree at random.
Although the cast includes some real luminaries, many of which are traditionally feature film actors, almost none of them get much to chew on. In terms of the supporting cast, Dale Dickey, Holly Hunter, and William Hurt are all basically wasted in roles they could do in their sleep -- doting moms and a wise veteran cop. Hunter has only two or three scenes in the movie, and only one of them is with Grainger before Bonnie and Clyde first meet, allowing no time whatsoever for any specific sort of parental relationship to really grow. Dickey's character is in more of the movie but accomplishes the same amount, offering Clyde some basic platitudes about being her "ray of sunshine" that she can take back when he's become a killer (there's also some terribly obvious CG applied to Dickey to make her look younger, which is undoubtedly twice as distracting as the lack of an age difference would've been). Hurt makes the most impression, but he's not doing anything more than another variation on the tired professional he often plays. The most interesting member of the supporting cast is Elizabeth Reaser as reporter P.J. Lane, who makes a name for herself covering Bonnie and Clyde, then regrets it when they start committing more serious crimes. With more screen time, it'd be the most interesting role in the movie, but she's barely a factor, and her final scene in the film doesn't quite make sense.
The real weak link, though, is Holliday Grainger as Bonnie Parker. Bonnie's motivation is stardom and her desire to perform, two things a life of crime provides. Sadly, Grainger (or Grainger's version of Bonnie) doesn't have "it." When Bonnie plays the victim in a courtroom after she's been arrested, it's not only a retread of the tired "feminine wiles" trope, but she's really not that convincing. Despite an overwhelming desire to avoid comparing the two, the total lack of sparks between Grainger and Hirsch makes it hard not to think of the hot and heavy atmosphere that blows into Arthur Penn's classic 1967 movie the moment Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway lay eyes on each other. The script presents Bonnie and Clyde as the kind of criminals who would mail a reporter better pictures of themselves to run in the paper, but most of the time spent on the road with them is a snooze.
Directed by Bruce Beresford with a look and feel that screams "made for TV", "Bonnie & Clyde" is pretty much a miss on all fronts. Although it's commendable in theory that Rice and Batteer felt like they could dig a little deeper than the headlines and come up with something interesting, this version of one of the most famous criminal couples of all time would have been better served printing a little more of the legend.
The Video and Audio
That said, the film's 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is the opposite, busting out of the gate with the thunderous conclusion to the couple's story and maintains that level of quality throughout. Environmental acoustics are nicely reproduced in the dialogue. Clyde's visions provide some opportunities for the sound design to do some predictable but still technically proficient warping and whooshing. Of course, as the movie goes on, gunfire becomes a common thread, including at least a couple of extensive shootouts which rank up with theatrical mixing. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and English, French, and Spanish subtitles are also included.
Four featurettes are included. "Iconography: The Story of 'Bonnie & Clyde'" (15:30) is a general making-of featurette, sitting down with the cast and crew to collect their thoughts on the real people, as well as what attracted them to the project. Romeo and Juliet parallels are mentioned, the "legend" is discussed, and the production is covered, with film clips cut in. Pretty standard stuff -- the most exciting detail is Holly Hunter's Jimi Hendrix T-shirt. Following this, "Becoming Bonnie" (10:34) and "Becoming Clyde" (5:37) further delve into the two principal actors and their process, including the use of Sissy Spacek movies in perfecting a Texas accent, and how Clyde's actions could be a stance against the prison system. Some of the same soundbytes from the main featurette are recycled in these more focused clips.
The final featurette is a Blu-Ray exclusive. "A Legendary Story Revisited" (16:05) sits down with screenwriters John Rice and Joe Batteer on how they attempted to find a new take on a story that's been made into movies and TV shows before. It also covers their research process, and their attempts to remain faithful to the facts of the case. No more or less worthy of inclusion than the other extras, but no better or more interesting, either.
All things considered, this is a fairly underwhelming package. Although the film runs three hours, it's hard to justify an entire second Blu-Ray disc for less than an hour of material. Surely, there must have been a documentary or two from Sony's partners A&E or History Channel that could've been tossed on to boost the value of the set.