Sam Peckinpah's controversial revisionist Western takes place in Texas and Mexico in 1913, a transitional year when the Old West was giving way to the New West. The titular outlaw bunch, headed by ethical-in-his-fashion Pike (William… More Sam Peckinpah's controversial revisionist Western takes place in Texas and Mexico in 1913, a transitional year when the Old West was giving way to the New West. The titular outlaw bunch, headed by ethical-in-his-fashion Pike (William Holden), continues staging violent bank robberies in their old, time-honored tradition. After a particularly brutal holdup in the town of San Rafael, the gang -- or what's left of it -- heads for the hills of Mexico, pursued by a posse led by Thornton (Robert Ryan), an old friend of Pike's. The gang discovers that the bank had been set up to be robbed by Thornton's railroad-executive boss Pat Harrigan (Albert Dekker), and that their booty consists of worthless metal washers. Meanwhile, the conscience-stricken Thornton seethes over Harrigan's scheme, which has cost too many innocent lives, but he is powerless to leave the railroad baron's employ lest he be sent back to jail. While hiding out in a Mexican village, the gang is engaged by corrupt general Emilio Fernandez to steal a huge shipment of guns from the U.S. Army. Like Thornton, Pike agrees against his will: his right-hand man Jaime Sanchez is being held hostage by Fernandez, who in turn is being manipulated by a pair of war-mongering German officers. More violence -- both justified and gratuitous -- follows, leading to a final blood-spattered confrontation between the Wild Bunch and 's posse. For many years, no one audience was privy to a "definitive" version of The Wild Bunch. Peckinpah's 144-minute director's cut was butchered by Warner Bros. after its first press showing (curiously, the studio removed not only the gorier scenes, but also several motivational sequences, rendering much of the film incomprehensible). The 1981 reissue was restored to 141 minutes, but it wasn't until the advent of home video that the complete version was once more made available. Once considered the last word in cinematic bloodletting, The Wild Bunch is a model of decorum compared to what was to follow.
Consensus: The Wild Bunch is Sam Peckinpah's shocking, violent ballad to an old world and a dying genre.