Ewan Gleadow

Review: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid 50th Anniversary

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Paul Newman and Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

Credit: Bettmann/Bettmann Archive

Although I’ve not seen enough of his movies to confirm this, I truly think Robert Redford is one of the most consistently dependable actors to have ever worked in Hollywood. His swan song leading role in The Old Man and His Gun had me interested in checking out the rest of his filmography, and where else would I begin than with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?

I’ve got a soft spot for cowboy movies, having grown up on them with my Grandad. I’d skip days of school, pretending I was poorly to watch the ill titled and often forgettable westerns that littered the early hours of the Film4 schedule.
Last of the Comanches, and although it’s not a western, Zulu, are the only two movies I can fully remember seeing. But it must have stirred something inside of me, those early embraces of the western genre, as my time with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid felt like a bold re-tread of the genre and at the same time something completely new and unlike anything I had ever seen.

The chemistry of Redford and Newman is certainly the most intense and enjoyable part of the movie. Full of memorable scenes and sharp dialogue, the two appear to have a thoroughly eclectic relationship on screen together. Tough as old boots cowboys that share their adventures together, go on the run from the dying West that they used to be kings of.
It’s a brilliant piece of tension that runs throughout the entire movie. Rather than adapting to the changes of their reality, they instead fire their six shooters at it until the bitter end.

Redford, to me, plays a character that is completely out of the ordinary. He’s not played a character like this before, he’s usually the heartthrob of the piece. Even when he’s a villain, he comes across as slimy rather than macho and villainous.
Here, his performance as The Sundance Kid is brilliant, bringing a violent turn that we’ve not seen before. He plays it extremely well and it’s one of his finest roles to date.

The direction of George Roy Hill is stellar, and his variety of techniques behind the camera are enough to make Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid thoroughly interesting. He captures a dying age perfectly, where the days of the cowboy are numbered, destroyed by the modernisation of America at the time. Hill demonstrates these changes with tremendous bravado, and at times subtlety. There’s a scene near the start of the movie where the Sheriff attempts to convince the locals into forming a militia to hunt down the wanted cowboys. Many are quick to refuse, opting to let the law itself deal with criminals, rather than putting themselves in harm’s way. That modernisation, the difference between lawman and civilian, brings about the rapid change the world would see at that time.

Even without its prose and depth, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a feverishly enjoyable western, and rightfully regarded as one of the greatest offerings the genre has for its audiences. Throwing incredible performances our way through its leading men, and strong direction to connect with it, it’s a rare mix that works incredibly well.