TV Review: ‘Bonnie & Clyde’

Bonnie and Clyde AE Simulcast TV

Three-network simulcast should boost miniseries, which otherwise lacks firepower

Anybody who saw “Bonnie and Clyde” in a movie theater has a pretty good chance of being a grandparent by now, so there’s no quibble with remaking it for a next (and next) generation. Yet even if this History-Lifetime-A&E synergistic expansion — on three networks, over two nights — hews more closely to history, its creative license still oozes into misguided touches, and the additional length produces arid patches in getting to the inevitable blood-soaked end. That said, the material — with its name recognition and Southern ties — should yield a solid Nielsen haul, if likely not quite as ostentatiously as “Hatfields & McCoys.”

Beyond gaining an ampersand, the protagonists add significantly more backstory. Clyde (Emile Hirsch) picks up an unnecessary voiceover narration that even survives him in death, and his character also channels eerie flash-forward visions of coming events, presumably to reassure the audience that something dramatic is going to happen after the next commercial break.

Yet as directed by Bruce Beresford from a script by John Rice and Joe Batteer, the project from producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron — which meticulously replicates its ’30s era — squanders much of its extra time on a too-slow build-up to Clyde’s turn to a life of crime (including a few interludes in jail).

He’s egged on by Bonnie (Holliday Grainger of “The Borgias”), who he first espies at her wedding to someone else, her beauty striking him like the proverbial thunderbolt.

Bonnie is an aspiring starlet encouraged by her mother (a sparsely used Holly Hunter), who finds notoriety as a criminal to be the next best thing to becoming an actress (insert your own joke here) as she eagerly saves press clippings from her exploits. Eventually, the collateral damage from their robbery spree — where they first endeavor not to hurt anyone, but eventually wrack up a pretty serious body count — prompts “the laws,” as the folks colorfully put it, to take an interest, enlisting retired Texas Ranger Frank Hamer (William Hurt) to pursue them, along with another lawman (Austin Hebert) who knew, and had a crush on, Bonnie.

Of course, pretty much everyone knows the hunt and near misses will eventually end in a hail of gunfire (indeed, that’s previewed near the outset), but as constructed, the movie does only a half-hearted job of zeroing in on the Depression-era roots of what made criminals so attractive, or how that might resonate juxtaposed against today’s tabloid and recessionary times. (A reporter, played by Elizabeth Reaser, eagerly chronicles their exploits, but it’s an underdeveloped thread.)

Instead, the movie settles for a rather dutiful tick-tock of episodes and shootouts, counting down toward the inevitable with plenty of on-air script indicating the time and place before each event.

Its shortcomings notwithstanding, “Bonnie & Clyde” has a handsome period feel and look, and as projects ranging from “The Bible” to “Hatfields” have demonstrated, there’s a clear appetite for historical material, longform projects and (perhaps most significantly) programming that skews toward a rural and Southern audience, which is where the duo’s exploits largely unfolded.

In crass bottom-line terms, in other words, “Bonnie & Clyde” has one important thing in common with its namesakes: You don’t always have to be good to make out like a bandit.

TV Review: 'Bonnie & Clyde'

(Miniseries; A&E/History/Lifetime, Sun.-Mon. Dec. 8-9, 9 p.m.)

Production

Filmed in Louisiana by Storyline Entertainment in association with Sony Pictures Television.

Crew

Executive producers, Craig Zadan, Neil Meron; co-executive producers, John Rice, Joe Batteer; producer, David A. Rosemont; director, Bruce Beresford; writers, Rice, Batteer; camera, Francis Kenny; production designer, Derek R. Hill; editors, John David Allen, David Beatty; music, John Debney; costume designer, Marilyn Vance; casting, Richard Hicks. 4 HOURS

Cast

Emile Hirsch, Holliday Grainger, Holly Hunter, William Hurt, Lane Garrison, Sarah Hyland, Austin Hebert, Elizabeth Reaser, Dale Dickey

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  1. Phildtm says:

    How to represent the doings of outlaws or other evil types without over-glamorizing them is a challenge that has always faced dramatists, novelists, and screenwriters. There’s no doubt that the activities of outlaws, criminals, and other villains often offer more dramatically exploitable material than those of us who lead ordinary lives. However what needs to be present in these works to avoid the charge of over-glamorizing are keen psychological insight, well-realized historical context, and at the very least good writing, acting, production design, and directing. This miniseries strikes out in most of those areas, with the exception of production design and some of the acting. Holliday Grainger in particular is gorgeous and is a good actress, but the conception of Bonnie as a misunderstood romantic is misguided. The rest are either just adequate or underused. Arthur Penn’s 1967 version with Beatty and Dunaway suffered from some of the same over-glamorizing, but at least it had a much better pacing and sustained level of dramatic excitement.

  2. DT says:

    The original Bonnie & Clyde movie came out when I was in 7th grade, and I remember it well (I’m not a grandmother, but I could be). At that time, it was shocking to see a scene like the last scene in which they were shot up so mercilessly, especially because it involved a woman being shot, and people talked about how gorey it was for months. I think this TV miniseries may have followed some of the true story more closely, but even this took liberties. The acting jobs of both Hirsch and Holliday were very good, and it was interesting to see how their interpretations of the characters differed from those of Beatty and Dunaway. I felt that this Bonnie was a little too nice and likeable, when in fact, the real Bonnie was supposed to have been ruthless and was called “the head of the game”. I also think that the chaos, horror, pain and despair of the scene where Buck was shot was much better portrayed in the original movie, whereas in this version it was a little too calm and calculated. However, it was nice that this TV version used the real names of the partners in crime and most of the situations were fairly accurate.

  3. m-space says:

    The sets and costumes are great, so I’m guessing there was no money left to buy a decent script.

  4. sal says:

    Hard to retool which was worse. The accents or the poor depiction of life in the South during the depression.

  5. AJ says:

    The final sentence of this review is absolutely on point. Rosemont has made a very lucrative career out of producing forgettable remakes of classic films. He’s obviously a stellar business man though. He just needs to start paying attention to the quality.

  6. Bj says:

    Not to mention Bonnie’s bad acting and worse southern draw mixed between southern and British so bad

  7. Any more further emphasis on Southern, you Yankee carpetbagger you?

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