Arthur Penn’s rage-filled dissent is everything movies of the 1970s
promised to be and usually were. Typically, it uses the past to
comment on the present, citing the extermination of Native Americans
in the 19th century as an indictment of U.S. policy in Southeast Asia
during the 20th. In both cases, non-whites were butchered to further
the righteousness of Western capital; where the “guns, germs, and
steel” (and a little Jesus, if you’re so inclined) of the mighty
American Cock killed en masse in order to avoid a wave of crushing

Still, this is more than an immersion in blood and
hellfire. Penn’s classic is, after all, more hilarious than
disturbing; Jack Crabb’s (Dustin Hoffman) picaresque adventures are a
wry send-up of the Horatio Alger tale, where our obsession with, and
endless pursuit of, re-invention makes authenticity and identity as
illusory as history itself. And then are the native people themselves
— the “Human Beings” — who are no doubt romanticized beyond
description, but only so that we are provided a stark contrast with
the cinematic savages that had come before. But these men and women,
far from Kevin Costner glumness, are self-deprecating, silly (there’s
a gay Native American character straight out of a John Waters film),
and wise, but they’re always to be admired and lamented.

Above all, this is a grand, perhaps perfect, film. It takes chances, risks
absurdity, and even today, remains pointed and relevant. And how else
to describe a major Hollywood production that demolishes religious
hypocrisy and American greed, challenges and exposes the lies of the
Old West, and features choreographed violence as good as anything by
Peckinpah? Oh yeah, brilliant.

About Matt

Matt is the site’s Longest Serving Critic and chief misanthrope. He divides his time between classics of cinema and the most ridiculous movies he can find on Redbox.
Follow Matt: @mattcale52