The Getaway June 12, 2017
But the men and women of The Getaway are not sophisticated, cool, nor excusably bad. They are, plain and simply, awful people simply trying to make it to the film’s finale alive. Whoever can get there without getting shot, arrested, or condemned in some other inventive way perhaps deserves a medal. We would not, of course, be the ones doing the medal-giving: when we aren’t flummoxed by all these fictional anti-heroes’ ambition, we’re busy internally damning them for all the lives they’d happily ruin for their own gain.
Made by another director and written by a different screenwriter (The Getaway’s is the action movie maestro Walter Hill) and the film would sag — these characters would be too detestable. But in the capable hands of these artists does the movie thrill just as much as it stands alone as a character study fascinated with the way criminals think, act, move, and love. It works so well because romanticism isn’t part of the formula this time around: this is a heist movie so gritty it hardly seems like a Steve McQueen vehicle at all. It’s reminiscent a cinematically rendered true crime tale, akin to the ones you read on the front pages of local newspapers with disbelief only to forget about days later.
Playing against type in The Getaway, McQueen portrays Carter “Doc” McCoy, a Texas criminal who, as the film opens, is denied parole for his latest assemblage of crimes. Though most in his shoes might otherwise give up and continue living miserably in the grey gloom of a prison cell, McCoy isn’t content sitting idly. Hungry for freedom, he figures that getting himself on the good side of powerful (and corrupt) businessman Jack Benyon (Ben Johnson) will serve him well. So he instructs his wife, the beautiful, gutsy Carol (Ali MacGraw), to do anything she can to win the man over.
Some interludes of seduction later and Benyon uses his vast influence to free McCoy. But such a favor isn’t going to go down without something major in return. Benyon demands that McCoy, with the help of his own thugs, Rudy and Frank (Al Lettieri and Bo Hopkins), rob a bank. Considering such is a normalcy in Mr. and Mrs. McCoy’s line of work, they immediately agree to the deed.
But a couple double crosses later and the husband and wife team become wanted property. Not just by the law, but also by Benyon and his conglomerates. When caught up in a situation as sticky as theirs, it’s a damned fine thing that they have something of an idea as to what they’re doing.
A lot of the time the McCoys have to shoot their way out of a particularly bad moment, making much of The Getaway’s tone more brutal than sexy. And that’s an expected development in a film headlined by Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw (whose tabloid-baiting marriage began with the affair they had on set). These people are beautiful, sure, but Hill and Peckinpah are so firm in their depiction of violence and deceit that it doesn’t much matter how much charisma radiates off them. These are slimy, disingenuous people whose eventual success at the end of the film doesn’t so much seem like a testament of our rooting for them (which we don’t necessarily do) as it does a testament to how good at wiggling out of precarious situations these people are. When the credits roll, we’re certain that they most likely were jailed or killed not long after the events witnessed in
The Getaway. They’re not so much criminally savvy as they are lucky.
But that luck is exciting to behold. A profusion of the squirming out of a surefire downfall revolves around a car chase, a shootout, and/or a twisted plot going through the motions, all of which are effectively written and executed. Structurally, The Getaway is a masterful action movie. So it’s the dark hedonism, along with the nicely amoral performances by McQueen and MacGraw, that make the film such a mainstay in its genre. You’ve never seen a lovers-on-the-run film this rip-roaring, and you’ve never seen lovers on the run this slippery. B+
1 Hr., 58 Mins.
here’s much to like about Sam Peckinpah’s rough-and-tumble heist thriller The Getaway (1972), but of its likable attributes the most appealing is the way the movie’s makers are unafraid of painting its entire ensemble as scoundrels. So many features in the caper film zeitgeist prefer to excuse its criminal leading characters as sophisticated sinners much cooler than you or me because they’re so good at being bad.