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Bonnie and Clyde: TV Review

The Bottom Line

It's Bonnie and Clyde -- you can't possibly need an explanation of the plot, right? However, in this version, it's good to know that Clyde can see the future. Actually, that's not really good to know because it's the worst part of an otherwise surprisingly solid if curiously necessary endeavor.

Premieres

Sunday, Dec. 8 at 9 p.m. and Monday, Dec. 9 at 9 p.m., on History, Lifetime and A&E

Cast

Emile Hirsch, Holliday Grainger, Holly Hunter, William Hurt, Lane Garrison, Sarah Hyland

Writers

John Rice, Joe Batteer

 

Director

Bruce Beresford

It's a bit audacious to tackle this story since a legendary film already exists, but Bruce Beresford, Emile Hirsch and three cable channels go for it anyway. The shocker is that "Bonnie and Clyde" isn't all that bad yet the question remains if it's all that necessary.

Since every network and cable channel must attempt at least one "event programming" moment, here comes the triple-channel challenge -- History, Lifetime, A&E -- of remaking Bonnie and Clyde.

Wait, what?

If the thought of taking on one of the greatest movies ever stopped your heart, then take a breath. This two-day, three-channel, four-hour take on the Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow story isn't an attempt by director Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy) to upstage fellow director Arthur Penn's classic Bonnie and Clyde. That would just be madness, right?

Right.

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Instead, Beresford and writers John Rice and Joe Batteer (Windtalkers, Blown Away) are opting for a more chronological retelling of the times and the timeline of the famous gangsters, played here by Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild) and Holliday Grainger (The Borgias).

And yet, there's a certain amount of audacity to the idea. You could argue that there is no statue of limitations on remaking a story that is already in the celluloid records as a classic. Given that such a thing will pop up on television screens starting Sunday, that ship has sailed. And while the notion that this idea even came up is still kind of stunning, the end result is actually a decent if needless retelling.

Translation: What could have been a disaster is not. Besides, not everybody has seen Penn's movie. And even if they have, perhaps they view another swing at the subject matter as less than blasphemy.

That said, no matter how different Beresford's take on the story is, the "why?" question never really fades away. It's a testament to Hirsch, who keeps Bonnie and Clyde grounded -- plus a solid script, for the most part -- that allows this movie to defy the odds. That doesn't make it great or even necessary, but wow, it could have been a lot worse.

The real problem with Bonnie and Clyde kicks in almost from the start. Rice and Batteer seem intent on focusing on this dubious notion that Clyde had a kind of "second sight" that is really the ability to see the future. Did he? Of course not. Maybe his grandmother thought so. Maybe Clyde thought so. But settling on that notion as a storytelling device is a mistake, because it's the biggest delineation between this adaptation of the story and Penn's classic. And projecting Clyde's visions of the future in dream-like scenes is never less than hokey and grinds Bonnie and Clyde to a halt every time the conceit is used.

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Beresford's version would have moved along quite nicely without that dramatic diversion, but perhaps without it the "why?" question would have hung in the air a little more definitively.

The other hurdle not handled here is pacing. Bonnie and Clyde is a better movie in the second half than the first, because that's when it delves into the gist of what made the duo famous. Was Clyde just bad? Did hard times compel him to go from petty crimes to violent ones? Was Bonnie the driving force in the story because all she ever wanted to be was famous? Because of that, is she inherently more evil than Clyde ever was -- a self-centered girl propped up by her mother's conviction that the world was overlooking a real talent? Holly Hunter plays her mother and effectively projects a parent's blind spot to reality when it comes to loving (and possibly enabling) your child's illusions of grandeur.

Though both Clyde and Bonnie had to have their back stories explained, it takes too long and there's a bit of the anvil to the head element when Grainger is forced to whisper "Bonnie AND Clyde" over and over again (less than hypnotically telling the audience that Bonnie's egotism coupled with her love of their infamy was the engine that drove the crime spree). By the end of the first part, viewers will likely be wanting more action and more proof of why this whole thing is even happening.

On the plus side, the audience will get it. William Hurt is wonderful as usual in a small role as legendary lawman Frank Hamer, who will be instrumental in the doom of the headline-grabbing gangsters. And Grainger pulls her weight with aplomb while Hirsch uses subtlety to keep the whole movie on the rails.

The question for viewers will be whether they need another retelling of this story and whether the parts that seem to separate it from the famed movie -- Clyde's foreshadowing visions -- are cause enough to reimagine the story.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com
Twitter: @BastardMachine