Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch is a triumph of filmmaking, the thinking man’s action flick. The Wild Bunch trades in stereotypes of the Western genre, using all the cliches of the milieu to explode the myths of the Old West, demystifying and deglamorizing the outlaw. The result is a remarkably unromantic look at the bandit-hero as cold-blooded killers who nonetheless live by a code of honor. With sparse dialogue, Peckinpah conveys themes of honor, respect and courage, the exchange of glances or the report of a rifle shot all that needs to be said.
Pike Bishop (William Holden) is the de facto leader of a motley crew of outlaws that includes his lieutenant Dutch (Ernest Borgnine), the Gorch brothers, Lyle (Warren Oates) and Tector (Ben Johnson) and Mexican bandito, Angel (Jaime Sanchez). Wanted for a series of train robberies, railroad dick, Pat Harrigan (Albert Dekker) hires a Pike’s former partner, Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan) to track Pike and the boys down. Unfortunately, Deke is saddled with an inept team of bounty hunters and a platoon of green army recruits.
In the meantime, Pike and the boys pull off an arms heist for the Mexican army, boosting a train car carrying rifles and ammunition. Hounded by Deke, torn between Angel’s loyalties to Pancho Villa and their $10,000 contract with Mexican general Mapache (Enilio Fernandez), as well as witnessing the West of yore becoming the West of lore, Pike Bishop, Dutch, Lyle and Tector, shotguns cradled in their arms, walk defiantly through Agua Verde toward the ultimate showdown.
Bloody and brutally violent, The Wild Bunch is a postmodern classic, the perfect Western commenting on imperfect Westerns. A cast of characters without morals--even children are ruthless and women are killers--and oddly, the most despicable are heroic. The Wild Bunch is a masterpiece.