Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Seen today, there isn't much explicitly controversial about Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde. However, at the time it was released, the graphic presentation of violence and the lack of antipathy towards our protagonists (who are presented in an almost heroic manner) was unconventional. The film became trendsetting in legitimatizing violence as a filmatic effect, and has been a model for many imitations, such as Terrence Malick's Kit and Holly in Badlands or Oliver Stone's Mickey and Mallory in Natural Born Killers.
The direction by Arthur Penn is tight and industrious, but the film is very much Warren Beatty's baby. And the genius of the achievement is how Beatty realized a potential and an appeal that Warner Bros never did (Warner giving Beatty 40% of the gross instead of a minimal fee and making Beatty a multimillionaire in the process). Although Hollywood has always been attracted to the gangsters of the public enemy era, it had never before been done in a romanticized manner like this. Warren Beatty's Clyde Barrow views his antics almost as artworks. His rebellion is also his performance, him showing off to the world. And Bonnie Parker, who just wants recognition, who wants to be loved, acknowledges the beauty of her mate's inspiration. She loves him for his fearlessness and ambition.
Backdropped against the great depression, Bonnie and Clyde is a precocious rock'n'roll story. It represents a desire in all of us to break free from the chains of society. A desire that grows strong when that society is at a low and cannot provide for us. In Benton and Newman's screenplay, people act and react towards Bonnie and Clyde like they would towards saviours.
Bonnie and Clyde combines an energetic narrative with a social criticism that becomes increasingly relevant as the film moves forward. The film wants to romanticize its heroes, but is careful not to become sentimental about it before it absolutely has to. The result is immensely engaging and largely timeless - despite some obvious technical aspects that makes it clearly contemporary.
Ultimately, the main asset of Bonnie and Clyde is the projection of the two title characters. Beatty hits it right with Clyde. He makes him limited and simple, but with a deep psychological structure. His lack of sexual instinct/ability makes him enigmatic to Bonnie, it makes him something she can't have, even though she already has it. She's alternately turned on and off by him. Beatty also conveys brilliantly Clyde's lacking ability to see beyond his own reality. He never dreams about a better or different life, he just wants to break free and enjoy the one he has. Bonnie, on the other hand, is torn between her love for Clyde and her desire for a different life. Her participation in it all is essentially involuntary and inevitable - her existence a comment on whether or not we have free will. Dunaway's performance is a powerhouse, she conveys an abundance of emotions with just her expressions.
What the two of them have in common is a lack of moral objections. Their value system and idea of right and wrong is a product of a society where the old way of thinking is in conflict with the new way of structuring. Bonnie and Clyde are a result of the depression, but they are also the remnants of an ancient American tradition. They are simple and without perspective, but they are idealistic beyond their own grasp. What they do know, however, is that they are inherently doomed. And therein lies their romantic culmination.