The Wild Bunch Sam Peckinpah

Sam Peckinpah's signature bloodbath is back for more mayhem, this time in a two-disc special edition that speaks to its popularity more than its quality. As an example of the director's skill, it's less lyrical than his Ride the High Country, less focused than Straw Dogs and less off its rocker than Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. But there's no denying that its brutal tale of outlaws in the waning days of the Wild West is a sprawling convolution of confused nuance and biting detail that overwhelms you even when you can't get a fix on what's going on. As desperado leader Pike (William Holden) leads his bunch to steal arms for a Mexican warlord, you scratch your head at how they somehow have any more honour than the federales they hate; you're even more bewildered when Holden chooses to respect the captured turncoat (Robert Ryan) who's tracking them down. But as Vietnam was raging as the film was being shot, the message is clear enough: moral distinctions were blurring and nobody knew how to cling to their old ideals. Whatever the text of the film is trying to say, its mumbled execution captures the times better than a thesis statement treatment ever could. Unfortunately, the special features are more than happy to offer thesis statements: a commentary by Peckinpah experts Paul Seydor, Nick Redman, Garner Simmons and David Weddle often devolves into the very sentimentality that the director despised. Disc two features a fine (if slightly vague) documentary on Peckinpah's life and career, the pointless but Oscar-nominated genuflection of The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage, excerpts from a pilgrimage to the set of the film that's loaded with ridiculous awe, and a reel of outtakes. (Warner)