“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” is a timeless classic, a buddy film for the ages and quintessential western cinema. This October, the film celebrates the 50th anniversary of its release.
The film is a masterpiece, a triumph of the western genre. It tells the story of two happy-go-lucky friends who are infamous bandits, played to perfection by Robert Redford and Paul Newman, as their crimes slowly catch up with them. The pair is hunted down in the American West after stealing from a gang of bandits, so they move to Bolivia, only to be hunted all over again. The story is based on historical figures, and Butch and Sundance were American bandits who ended up in Bolivia. The details of the story, however, were exaggerated for the film.
Even when things get serious for the pair of outlaws, the film continually reflects the characters’ own lighthearted attitudes on life. The film doesn’t have a dull moment, and even when the plot slows down, Redford and Newman’s effortless chemistry keeps audiences engaged throughout the runtime.. They are believable as morally challenged best friends that even when the two of them are revealed to be in a love-triangle with a woman named Etta Place, played beautifully by Katherine Ross, the focus remains on Butch and Sundance’s friendship.
The story itself is exquisitely told through a combination of beautiful long shots and closeup scenes between the two main characters, as well as through the effective use of extended music-overlaid montages. Cinematographer Conrad Hall did an excellent job creating the atmosphere of the American and Bolivian countryside. The sets for both were appropriate and oddly cozy, further contributing to the easy-going nature of the film.
Thematically, the film is quite simple: You’ll eventually get what’s coming to you, no matter how good you are at running away from it, and you can never change who you are, even if you’re given a second chance. Both of these themes are expressed as Butch and Sundance narrowly escape their pursuers in the U.S., then again as they return to a life of crime in Bolivia, having sworn to give up the gun for a peaceful life.
Despite facing criticism for its pacing, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” continues to resonate with audiences fifty years after its release due to the tall-tale like grandeur of the American West, the lighthearted, yet adept handling of the film’s heavy themes and the film’s universally recognizable depiction of friendship. It is truly a great film that has withstood fifty years.