Directed by: George Roy Hill
Written by: William Goldman
Starring: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katharine Ross, Strother Martin, Jeff Corey
No matter how long you stay at the top, much like gravity, everything and everyone must come down eventually. In the workplace, it arrives at retirement and for the two men in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, it comes from a forceful place. Through it all, this film leads you to think just how good these two leads gobbled up their roles.
Having led a gang of robbers for quite some time, Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and Sundance Kid (Robert Redford) have evaded the law on every single occasion. However, on one of their most recent burglaries, a group of highly-trained men chases them, which pushes the pair to their limits.
Dynamic duos have propelled many stories forward from the hero and sidekick to the buddy cops. Even with many combinations leaving a mark in cinema, I would be hard-pressed in distinguishing two men who did it better than Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Not only do they pull off their suave appeal in Best Picture winner, The Sting, but they also use their charm to the offensive in this thrilling western. Butch does not have the physical prowess of Sundance, meaning he must utilize his intellect to get out of situations. Both of these characters have their particular set of skills demonstrated on full display early in the feature to establish they are not men to be messed with. Whether it be from Butch having the ability to quell a revolt, or Sundance’s ability to use a firearm like we use a toothbrush.
Narratively, the story holds intrigue but the best part of it remains the performances by the two leads. The brotherly relationship expands, as they live their life on the run and we learn more about them in the same time they learn more about each other. It speaks to the lifestyle they have chosen and how you could break bread with a fellow man but still shield personal things for your own protection. The wisecracks and jokes relayed between Butch and Sundance always comes in a deprecating manner masked with genuine care. Paul Newman utilizes his charm to a dangerous degree, as he maneuvers out of sticky situations. He’s the leader of the gang and therefore must present the way they want to be seen and Newman utilizes his great smile to powerful effect. Redford sports a more rustic look, who seems more guarded and whips out his gun whenever necessary. Together, they create two characters you want to ride along even if their chosen profession leaves much to be desired. It helps get through the long chases because each quiet moment will unveil more about these two men.
The western genre has always been challenging for me, as it unquestionably tells great stories, but many of them are inextricably laced with racism towards indigenous folks. On many occasions, I’ve looked in disbelief as we’re meant to cheer for some hero, who takes glee in discriminating against indigenous people to which the response from others always lays on the story being of its time. Fortunately, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid ticks all of the boxes of a great western and brushes off the faults. Instead of it being some revenge story, it focuses solely on these two men and how they want to escape from these looming men on their tail.
Narratively, the film moves at a great pace. In the beginning, all of the players get established, but then the plot kicks into full gear and the chase commences. As simple as it may be to display these two men running from these hunters, the film grounds it to be quite terrifying, as they cannot outwit those chasing them. It shifts into trying to figure out who it may be after them, which sets up people we do not know, but if they frighten our two leads, we better fear them. This tactic brilliantly establishes what makes these adversaries a threat without ever leaving the focus on these two characters, because they command the spotlight of every scene. The pacing of this feature alludes the typical trappings of the westerns I have seen, as it makes every second count.
A fantastic mix of camaraderie, comedy, and genuinely terrific shootout sequences, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid has shot up to be one of my favorite westerns. It came through to me on a rewatch, as I did not care for it on my first attempt. However, revisiting it showed me what it tried to narratively and how these two men are a relic of the past, and an uninviting future is on its way to vanquish them. Thematically, it shows itself with the inventions displayed and the opposing forces in the feature. It’s impossible to turn down the opportunity to spend some time with Paul Newman and Robert Redford, and they make it worth every second as they utilize their wit and charm to guide us through an exhilarating story.