In 2007, the American Film Institute revised their previous 1998 list of the 100 best American films of all time. This weekly column will explore my thoughts on select films from this list, mostly following along with the Unspooled Podcast, which inspired my journey to complete the AFI Top 100. You can also follow my progress with my ranking and watchlist. This week’s film is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), #73 on the list.
Having recently come to enjoy a handful of Westerns (Shane, Unforgiven, The Man with No Name trilogy), I was excited to finally see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Not only is it heralded as one of the genre’s finest films, but it trades the stern and quiet protagonist—a genre staple that never particularly appealed to me—for two ridiculously charming leads. And as expected, the film leans on the charisma of Newman and Redford as they trade jabs back and forth, with their playfully contentious relationship creating an atmosphere of levity that carries the film and distinguishes it from many others in the genre.
Aside from a distractingly anachronistic soundtrack and some dated editing choices, the filmmaking is strong, mainly serving to foreground the two main attractions, but unfortunately, the film is only able to coast so far on the two leads, because the plot drains the excitement out of their adventure. After a thrilling first act, which includes multiple robberies and an attempted mutiny via knife fight, the rest of the runtime follows Butch and Sundance as they flee their pursuers—a subversive concept for the genre but not particularly compelling to watch. Surprisingly, its screenplay is considered one of its major strengths, even though it features a tedious, episodic second act and offers little character development apart from some witty banter. Though I much prefer it to The Wild Bunch, that one at least felt revolutionary and influential; I struggle to see what makes Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid a classic.
Does It Belong on the List:
Obviously I don’t think so, but I would offer to replace it with a different Paul Newman charisma-drenched two-hander: The Color of Money.