Bonnie and Clyde, based on real-life characters, is maybe one of the most iconic crime films ever made. When I watched it, I was under the impression of witnessing something larger than life. And in fact, this combination of excellent filmmaking and a true story of glorified bank robbers is, in a way, larger than life in how easily it has gone down in history. It says so much about society's fascination with the 'good' criminals, the outcasts.
Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were simply kids trying to escape the misery and boredom of their small-time lives. He'd been in prison a few times, and she was a waitress. Most importantly, they were bright and eager for something more. They started robbing banks shortly after meeting each other, and from then on they were constantly on the run across the American South.
This film is very rich in the way it gives us a look into Bonnie and Clyde: both are beautiful, witty, impeccably dressed, almost never swear, have a great sense of humor. But, simultaneously, from a narrative point of view, it does not shy from showing that they are very capable of violence -and not particularly tortured by guilt afterwards-, and that they have basically no plans of ending their criminal lives any time soon. ,Bonnie and Clyde is glamourous, yes, but also raw. It's a long juxtaposition of the largely iconic images of Bonnie and Clyde in the desert, or taking mock-photos of themselves with rifles, on other, heavier images of bloodbath and gunfire. How flawlessly both aspects of the same story are joined is what makes it a remarkable film.
The Barrow gang was, from the core, a romanticized reflection of itself. Bonnie Parker wrote their own story in the form a poem named The Trail's End, which was published in the newspapers at the time. She was able to see the gang as an icon even before it was over, and this peculiarity gives the story of Bonnie and Clyde a very literary, which extends to cinematographic, quality, and in a way justifies the stylization to which their story has been subject, over and over.
This alternation between romance and violence is played to perfection by Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, the two impossibly handsome criminals. Both of them not only have great presence, they also manage to strike a perfect balance as a couple onscreen, and deliver vivid, almost tangible performances. They're largely responsible (as well as, of course, the script) for the humanization of Bonnie and Clyde. Gene Hackman further proves his versatility as Clyde's brother Buck, Michael J. Pollard plays the gang's sidekick, and Estelle Parsons plays Buck's unbearable wife in a way that makes you want to kill her (this is a compliment).
As for the filmmaking itself, here is some of the most unique cinematography I've seen in any American film of the time. Taking advantage of the desert setting, with its unrelenting sun and sandstorms, Bonnie and Clyde is wrapped constantly in a golden haze. The costumes and art direction are no less evocative, and then there's the great visual and sound editing, responsible for making the final shoot-out scene of the film one of the most disturbing, fascinating moments of its genre.