Thieves Like Us (Altman, 1974)

A visually toned down Altman film, his patented aesthetics refrained to fit the story instead of running amuck, as seen later in The Company; and the result here is beautiful in every way. Shelly Duvall, as the trumped upon country girl who gets involved with David Carradine’s escaped convict, perfectly embodies the tragic loyalty and blind devotion not often seen in Altman’s heroines, and it creates a durable narrative center in a film filled with rambling anti-heroes and stunning, endless landscape shots. Most of all, Thieves Like Us solidifies Altman as a master storyteller, worthwhile, character driven stories outside the realm of the cinematic style he came to be known for. To me, this film stands tall in the Altman canon, not only because it separates itself from other similar narratives (less brutal than Badlands and more humane than Bonnie and Clyde) in subtle and nuanced ways (like the fast, fragmented violence and the fleeting notion of the gang mentality), but because it shows a series of events that seem loosely connected, but end up being disturbingly dependent on each other in terms of story and character. The emotional journey sneaks up on you as a viewer, and by the last sequence of visually distanced violence, I ended up caring much more deeply than expected for these lost souls.

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