December 9, 2013



BONNIE & CLYDE:  Concludes Monday 9PM on Lifetime/A&E/History

It’s been 46 years since the classic movie, and besides, plenty of historical events and figures have been the subjects of multiple productions, so the idea of a new BONNIE & CLYDE was perfectly legitimate–until, that is, the present one turned out to be resoundingly phony in every way.  The 4-hour miniseries is intended as “event television,” the buzzwords of the moment–although why anyone not an advertiser would care that the same show was aired on three basic cable networks at the same time was never clear–but the event, based on the initial 2 hours, is backfiring badly.

Executive Producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron are mostly known for their musicals (Smash and last week’s The Sound of Music Live were two of theirs), and the new Bonnie & Clyde has been so romanticized, sentimentalized and scrubbed of any danger that it sometimes seems like one that’s missing its songs.  The events presented are largely fictionalized; it’s all presented as narrated, very talkatively, by Clyde Barrow (Emile Hirsch) from beyond the grave, although many scenes are depicted that Clyde wouldn’t have known about.  Clyde, in this version (the script is by John Rice and Joe Batteer), has second sight, so even as a child he was having heavenly visions of the adult Bonnie Parker (Holliday Grainger) as his destiny.  As a teenager, he then wandered apocryphally into 16-year old Bonnie’s wedding, although he wouldn’t actually meet her until several years later–they don’t speak at the wedding, but their eyes lock meaningfully.  (She remembers him when they do meet.)  Later, Clyde’s psychic abilities give him a jump on knowing when cops are going to appear.

For her part, Bonnie–although living a hard-scrabble life in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s–appears to buy her outfits from some Depression Chic website; she makes Faye Dunaway in the Arthur Penn film look dowdy.  (She looks like she’s auditioning to play Nicole Kidman’s kid sister in a sequel to Moulin Rouge.)  This Bonnie is insulted that her name hasn’t been mentioned in a newspaper story about one of their crimes, so she turns up at the reporter’s (Elisabeth Reaser) house with a gun to make sure she gets her billing; when she’s arrested, she performs her over-the-top sexually suggestive testimony in front of the (male) grand jury like one of Kristen Wiig’s SNL characters.  For all her aggressiveness, she’s got no heat; she could be performing in a music video.  Meanwhile, Holly Hunter as her loving mother tut-tuts and shakes her head over what her daughter has become.  (William Hurt turns up for one quick, professional scene as the retired lawman who will eventually track the pair down, but he won’t become a major character until Part 2.)

There was plenty of factual inaccuracy in the David Newman/Robert Benton screenplay, too, but that script, as directed by Arthur Penn under the very active supervision of producer/star Warren Beatty (Mark Harris’s Pictures At a Revolution contains a masterful account of its making), had a unified point of view, about the characters, the era, violence and movies themselves; everything in it fit.  The new Bonnie & Clyde is just a mess, assembled to make its leads as sympathetic as possible.  (When someone finally dies during one of their robberies, it’s the result of an accident, and neither of their fingers is on the trigger.)

The director Bruce Beresford is a very capable filmmaker, with movies like Driving Miss Daisy and Tender Mercies to his credit, and with director of photography Francis Kenny and production designer Derek R. Hill, he’s given the production a pretty sheen, albeit one that looks more like a series of dioramas than places where poor people actually lived.  It’s efficient but uncompelling.  Hirsch, who can be a very fine actor (he was superb in Into the Wild), doesn’t have the Ryan Gosling-like charm that this script was looking for, while Grainger’s porcelein-doll beauty dominates her artificial performance.  (It appears that the panic attacks this Bonnie has are intended to be genuine, but as Grainger plays them, they seem as fake as everything else she does.)

There were plenty of ways to do a new Bonnie & Clyde that had a vitality independent of the movie, but this sub-Baz Luhrmann glamor treatment wasn’t one of them.  Turning it into a tri-network “event” just means there’ll be three networks with lousy programming on Monday night.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."