There comes a point at which every man reaches the end of the road and is forced to make a decision. Fade away, or go out in a blaze of glory. It goes without saying that the main characters of this film chose the latter. Sam Peckinpah's classic western is the tale of a gang of outlaws who see the world they know slipping away all around them. Scores are getting more dangerous. Technology is making killing too easy. Still they fight on, because they simply wouldn't have it any other way.
William Holden plays a man named Pike Bishop. He and his gang of outlaws hit banks, trains, you name it. They stick together no matter how thick things get. After a failed attempt at a bank robbery in which nearly an entire town is gunned down, the gang sets out to steal a shipment of new guns from the US Army and sell them to a Mexican general. But this will not be an easy score. Not only will they have to fend of US soldiers, but the railroad has hired a former member of their gang named Deke Thornton and a bunch of sloppy bounty hunters to stop them. Also, the Mexican general is a dangerous man with hundreds of men at his disposal. Pancho Villa and his army are also in the area. Bullets are going to fly, and fly they do.
From the opening shot of children torturing a couple scorpions to death by feeding them to a colony of ants, this film makes its point very thoroughly about violence. In this shot we see efficient killers overwhelmed by an army of a weaker species of animal. The scorpions are a metaphor for Pike and his gang. Outnumbered at every turn, they are still a handful for those who would try to hunt them down.
Pike and his men are able to pull off the score and deliver the guns to the general. But they don't go riding off happily into the sunset like the heroes of a traditional western. Their story could never end that way. Knowing that their way of life is coming to an end, and knowing that one of the gang is being tortured by the general, Pike calls the remaining members together. "Let's go," he simply tells them. Each man knows what this means. They grab every gun they own and all the ammunition they can carry. Then they take a nice stroll down the main street of the general's compound to pay him and his army a little visit. The resulting gun battle has to be seen to be believed.
Once the shooting stops, there is an odd; sad feeling that settles over the compound. The bounty hunters show up when the vultures do. The sight of his former companions' dead bodies slumped over the backs of horses is too much for Thornton to bear. You know he would have rather been there by their side during the battle, and now he cannot bring himself to claim the reward for their hides. He simply sits down in the dirt as the survivors of the compound quietly file out and an ominous wind begins blowing through the dusty streets. Moments later it's his turn to make a choice. You can't help but feel he made the right one.
The Wild Bunch is an incredible film. If ever a film was ahead of it's time, this is it. See it! 10 of 10 stars.