Sam Peckinpah personified the word ‘infamous’. He was a human being with a reputation for extremes, but also a man with a unique, uncompromising directorial vision which bought him some leeway, even with his detractors. In a career with many examples of deliberately pushing the envelope – Straw Dogs (1971), Junior Bonner (1972), The Getaway (1972), Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) – one of his most respected films was 1969’s The Wild Bunch, a violent, graphic western that dispensed with the clean-cut, no blood rules of the genre and a movie that, though it incurred the wrath of many at the time became known as (and is still considered to be) a milestone of the western and of cinema itself.
The original The Wild Bunch, which Peckinpah also co-wrote with Walon Green, starred Wiliam Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Edmond O’Brien, Warren Oates, Jaime Sanchez and Ben Johnson and told the tale of a group of outlaws who saw the changing of the Old West happening around them as the frontier was pushed back and the industrial age was ushered in… and yearned for one last score. However the law and past betrayals derail their enterprise and it all leads to one of the most notable bloody, gunslinging showdowns in cinema history.
Many see it as both a statement of Peckinpah’s attitude and a watershed in the way screen violence could be presented but it’s also been a film that many studios have toyed with remaking in the decades since – allowing a raft of modern day hard-men to populate its blood-and-guts landscape. But it would not be an over-the-top for the sake of it remit, a la The Expendables. It would always need to be hard-hitting but played straight. While there have been several candidates for the directing role, the stars and mood to greenlight such a project have never aligned.
So it’s interesting that the film is finally about to get remade… and with this week’s announcement that Mel Gibson will be in the director’s chair. Fans of the original film were somewhat divided on ever having a remake itself, even before this latest news. After all, re-imaginings of any kind rarely eclipse the original.
Gibson, of course, has had his own controversies, with a spectacular fall from grace after several drunken run ins with the law and several claims of racial bigotry. From being one of the top A-List action stars of the 1980s and 1990s and an ever more assured director (think the progression from 1993’s The Man without a Face to 1995’s Braveheart , 2004’s The Passion of the Christ and 2006’s Apocalypto), he would spend almost a decade in the cinematic wilderness, essentially considered an untouchable by the industry. In the last few years he’s been slowly making his way back into favour and appeared in the likes of Machete Kills (2013), Blood Father (2014) Daddy’s Home 2 (2017) and – of course – as the big-bad in another star-filled extravanganza, 2014’s The Expendables 3.
However, whatever one’s feelings on his self-inflicted demotion, there’s little doubt he was and is a skilled director able to deal with action, scale and gravitas and The Wild Bunch could certainly be considered as being in his wheelhouse should everything come together in the next few months (there’ll be several projects ahead of this on Gibson’s slate).