Probably one of the last classic Peckinpah films that I hadn’t seen. This is the classic tale of the two friends that ended up on opposite sides of the law. But, as usual in Peckinpah’s movies, the opposition isn’t quite as simple as that. The film follows the journey of the two titular men as Garrett is hired to hunt and kill William H. Bonny, Billy the Kid, by the encroaching land-owners of the newly tamed frontier. During the course of this hunt Garrett loses touch with his station as the Sheriff and begins a descent into a moral vacuum. He becomes the hard-drinking, womanising archetype of the West – getting worse the closer he gets to Bonny. There’s even the suggestion that Garrett helps Bonny to escape from the first time they capture him, fuelling his own tragic descent. A descent in marked contrast to Bonny’s easygoing charm as he mulls over fleeing to Mexico or sticking around.
The whole film is set to the strains of Bob Dylan’s original soundtrack. I have been informed by a musician friend that Dylan is the greatest song-writer to have ever lived. I don’t know how you quantify this, if indeed you can at all, but I do know that his music sits easily with this melancholy film and adds further texture to Peckinpah’s beautifully desolate landscapes. Dylan cannot act though – no way. This doesn’t detract from a typically macho piece of cinema where men are big and flawed and women are furniture or bystanders. It is what it is with no apologies and possibly tongue-in-cheek and thoroughly enjoyable for it.
Note: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is listed in the Neon book 1000 Essential Movies on Video under ‘Pop Star Vehicles’.