TV Movie Review: 'Bonnie and Clyde' Part 1

History Channel’s follow-up to last year’s surprise mini-series smash “Hatfields & McCoys” fails to meet the standard set by its predecessor. Where “Hatfields & McCoys” brought a flurry of historical chill and realism, “Bonnie and Clyde” is over-stylized and bizarrely enacted.

As most familiar with the pulp backstory of the historical Bonnie and Clyde can attest, it is a story that has captivated the minds of countless people. Their story has lent itself to the intense study of scholars and the eagle eye observations of students, who are still, to this day curious about the criminal duo.

Despite all of the accounts that have been written about their criminal activity, there still remains a central fascination surrounding their legacy. We all know what they did and can speculate about why they did it, however it’s the question of what drew these two souls into a path of darkness that remains the source of so much speculation. According to this latest mini-series it’s a psychic vision by Clyde (Emile Hirsch). The first I’ve heard of him being a soothsayer.

Bonnie and Clyde have been historically viewed as a Romeo and Juliet-style love affair. A couple that met their grizzly end together, after committing a crime spree that would forever emblaze them in infamy. “Bonnie and Clyde” tries to deliver on the “love story” that drove the couple together. However, there’s no real love.

Their version is that Bonnie (Holliday Grainger) is a beautiful young woman, zealous with a desire for fame and when fate puts Clyde in her sights, she foresees an opportunity to make her dreams come true. So basically Bonnie and Clyde are the genesis of reality TV stars. 

What the first half, subtly implies, is that Bonnie wasn’t a dirt poor woman waiting to be rescued from a hellish existence. She is actually well-off with a nice house and fabulous fashions. Compared to the dismal existence of Clyde, she comes off as a poor little rich girl who ensnares the uneducated and naïve Clyde into a life of criminal notoriety because she is bored with her own life.

Clyde is merely a poor lovesick guy who gets caught up with a sinful siren. The film seems to solidify their theory, presenting as their smoking gun, Bonnie’s name coming before Clyde's. Wow.

The sexual relationship that is presented between the pair is beyond credulity. As "steamy" as it is to imagine they were burning up the sheets, it is historically known and acknowledged in the film, that Clyde was horrifically abused in prison so him prancing into freedom to have a lust-fest with Bonnie is hard to believe. It’s a disservice to what happened to him, to not recognize the lasting psychological effects that had on his life.

The movie instead focuses on David Lynch style images that wouldn’t have been as out of place, if Lynch were actually directing. Seeing a “historical” account, waste time on Clyde having a vision of Bonnie performing, pointe technique ballet is ridiculous.

Where films like “Public Enemies” and “Lawless” succeeded in grittily capturing the hard scrabble existence of the Great Depression and Prohibition-era Americans, “Bonnie and Clyde” fails to do so. 

Emile Hirsch, who has surprised in recent films, stumbles in a role that he’s miscast in. Meanwhile, Holliday Grainger who stunned audiences with her portrayal as the scheming Lucrezia on Showtime’s “The Borgias” is given little to work with script-wise and having a better matched, screen partner would have drastically improved matters. The two’s chemistry simply doesn’t spark. Grainger does make a compelling Bonnie and proves herself as a versatile actress, diving from one emotion to another with rapid navigation.

Tonight, the second half will air and hopefully it’ll offer more for the cast and audience. Thus far, the ride has been disappointing, a sadly missed opportunity for greater exploration of these historical enigmas. Rating: 6.5/10

[Image by A&E/Lifetime]