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A week with Junior Bonner, a rodeo pro on the wrong side of 40, broke, bruised, and headed into Prescott, his home town, for the annual 4th of July Frontier Days. His dad, Ace, is a dissolute dreamer fixed on finding gold in Australia; his mom is resigned to Ace's roving; his brother Curly is tearing up the countryside to make a million in real estate. Junior just wants to stay on a bucking Brahma for eight seconds, hang out with Ace, find a way to spend time with a beautiful woman whose eyes catch his, and earn enough to get to next week's rodeo. As the old West and its code give way to progress, Junior is lonesome, laconic, and on the road - just where he wants to be. Written by
This is one of my favorite films from one of my favorite directors, and starring one of my favorite actors. I saw a lot of parallels to my own life in this film and the road I have chosen for my own life. The simple fact that JR Bonner lives for "the ride" is really what this film is all about. He continues to ride even though he's past his prime, and still acknowledges his father amidst the division he finds upon his return home. His disenchantment with changing times is very evident here, as this part is pure Peckinpah, who lived and thrived in the western genre for most of his filmography. This theme of what the west has become and what it is becoming has been a theme of inspiration for Sam Peckinpah's films throughout his barely twenty year career as a director. The Father/Son relationship between Junior and Ace strikes a chord with me, especially during the cow milking scene when the Bonners lose, and Ace says "We could've won it", and Junior says "We did Ace". It is profound, and gets me to thinking of my own Father, whose Footsteps I walk in and took after even in my Mother's disapproval.
Junior's sole mission in this film is simply to ride "Sunshine", the bull no man ever rode, and his failure to do so continually haunts him, even as he rides the bull and finally succeeds by staying on the bull for the 8 seconds required. His family situation is a backdrop of events leading up to this triumphant moment that motivates him to continue down the road, and follow his own destiny.
The scene between Steve McQueen and Joe Don Baker where Curly (Baker's character) slugs Junior onto the floor of the Palace Bar is a key moment as well. The two are feuding brothers, one becomes a businessman, and destroys the Matriarch of the family's house (Ace Bonner, played wonderfully by Robert Preston). The other (McQueen) follows the path of the Father, not really being around or being there for his family, but wants to. When Curly invites Junior into the real estate business, and Junior refuses lets you know that Junior is his own man. Curly lashes back by saying "I'm working on my first million, and you're still working on 8 seconds". That lets you know who Junior Bonner is, and who he has chosen to be.
Junior has a love for his Father the rest of the family can't understand, he even gives up over half his winnings for riding Sunshine to buy his Dad a plane ticket to Australia to start a sheep farm. This film has a lot of themes in it; changing times, division of family, and dedication to something when you are no longer on top. It is a true interpretation of the life of the rodeo cowboy. It's a shame this film did not do well when it was first released, I guess it was ahead of its time like Sam Peckinpah. I totally recommend this film because it, like The Ballad of Cable Hogue was unexpected and unpredictable, like its maverick director.
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