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It's 1881 in New Mexico, and the times they are a'changing. Pat Garrett, erstwhile travelling companion of the outlaw Billy the Kid has become a sheriff, tasked by cattle interests with ridding the territory of Billy. After Billy escapes, Pat assembles a posse and chases him through the territory, culminating in a final confrontation at Fort Sumner, but is unaware of the full scope of the cattle interests' plans for the New West. Written by
Ed Sutton <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Peckinpah's "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" is a rich, haunting, yet demanding work that, above everything else, sees Billy as a creature of his day and age
He is by no means made a wholly sympathetic character, but who was sympathetic in the New Mexico of 1881? Peckinpah has most of his characters dyed with violence and sniffing the prevailing air of corruptionthe chief protagonists, their filthy henchmen, even the onlookers
Where and what is the law? No one seems to know or care Garrett and Billy have seen both sides, like almost everyone else
And among the confusion and violence that is the legacy of range war there is no gleam of purifying light in the efforts we see being made to clean up the territory The powers that be want Billy out of New Mexico, not for ethical reasons, but rather so that things can be neatly protected for the approaching business exploitation
Garrett is the man made sheriff to hunt him down and thereby the man who compromises . . . 'This country's getting older and I aim to grow old with it ... there's an age in a man's life when he has to consider what's going to happen next.'
But Billy can't compromise It's not his way "Billy, they don't like you to be so free!" proclaims the Bob Dylan theme song, summing up why the power men find Billy so irritating Perhaps that's why Garrett who has sold out to power is in some ways a reluctant hunter He salutes Billy's spirithis very own personal declaration of independencebut he knows it's not the spirit of the new times
It says much for Peckinpah's way with actors that he gets such admirable performances out of the comparatively inexperienced Kris Kristofferson, as Billy, and Bob Dylan, as Billy's mate It says just as much for his Westerns perceptiveness that he relies even more heavily on experience The well-tried James Coburn is both solid and hard to define as Garrett And then there are the others who know their way around Westerns so wellKaty Jurado, Slim Pickens, R. G. Armstrong, Jason Robards, Jack Elam, Chill Wills There's not a single performance here that isn't a rounded-off portrait in its own right
It all adds up to a richness in characterization that is matched by the richness of marvelously composed scenes in which interiors and exteriors alike have been put together with loving care and attention to detail, whether it's a big set-piece 'shoot-up' or a close-up of a can of preserveshow such a can looked in 1881
Garrett's hunt for Billy is told mainly in set-pieces and it has to be said that Peckinpah makes little narrative concession to an audience in the way they are strung together But for the out and out Western fan this is a most memorable movie
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