Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia

Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Relatively few films in the history of cinema have gone on to receive so much critical acclaim after being so widely derided on their release as Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia. Now painstakingly restored to its full glory, this Peckinpah classic is receiving a welcome re-release, and will hopefully receive the welcome it deserves from audiences.

Fans of the western genre, and of the thrillers that emerged from it, will know the score, and on the surface the story here is a simple one. A rich man's daughter is pregnant. After publicly humiliating her, demanding to know who brought this shame upon his family, he issues the titular proclamation. Whoever can provide him with the head of her lover will receive a rich reward. His lieutenants quickly spread the word, hoping to get the job done for them for a smaller sum. But unknown to them, Alfredo is already dead. His former lover, a small town prostitute, accompanies her sleazy boyfriend Bennie on a trip to rob his grave. It ought to be simple and, Bennie argues, not deeply immoral. The money could change their lives. But it's a brutal world out there, and he has scarcely guessed at where the journey may lead him.

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What Peckinpah does so brilliantly in this deceptively clever film is to build elegantly on the established tropes of the genre only to pull the rug from under them half way through, letting Bennie slide into a much darker narrative. Some have called this a surrealist film, but in many ways it's a western with the usual surreal elements removed. People here have real emotions and real relationships, real (if tawdry) dreams, and the impact of brutality has a real effect on them. Nothing is as easy as it usually seems in the movies. When a chance encounter with some bikers leads to Bennie's discovery that he enjoys violence, a properly disturbing transformation is set in motion, and the strange dialogue which he develops with the dead Alfredo is both hilarious and disorientating. It almost charms the viewer into participating in his madness.

The treatment of women is often a sore point in films like this, and Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia certainly contains some voyeuristic and misogynistic scenes, yet it subverts them by drawing on a powerful performance from Isela Vega as Bennie's girlfriend Elita, the source of his humanity. By making a character the genre would traditionally have exploited into a charismatic and convincing individual, Vega forces the viewer to think seriously about the way she's treated, and the emotional impact she has on Bennie's life ultimately forms the crux of the narrative. This might be a world in which men like to think they're independent of women and domestic life, but love and a sense of family are driving forces underscoring this cruel narrative, bringing us back, just as the story eventually does, to the pregnancy and the love affair which preceded it. This focus on relationships also helps to bring Alfredo to life as a character, so that by the end of the film we almost feel we know this man whom we've never met.

Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia is an enormously important film, a re-evaluation of its genre and a fascinating exploration of the desire for and effects of violence. It's also spectacularly directed and highly watchable. Treat yourself.

Reviewed on: 01 Jan 2009
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When a rich man offers a big reward for the head of the man who impregnated his daughter, an impoverished couple set out on the trail, but the world proves much more brutal than they expected.
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Director: Sam Peckinpah

Writer: Frank Kowalski, Sam Peckinpah

Starring: Warren Oates, Isela Vega, Robert Webber, Gig Young, Helmut Dantine, Emilio Fernández, Kris Kristofferson, Janine Maldonado

Year: 1974

Runtime: 112 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US, Mexico


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The Searchers
The Wild Bunch