Many people claim that Peckinpah did not understand what Sergio Leone was doing in languorous Westerns like Once Upon a Time in the West, but Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid proves that assessment wrong. It is a Western set at a slow blues tempo in which melancholic introspection is paced by vengeful or offhanded violence. Garrett takes his time hunting the Kid, hoping the fugitive will leave the United States for Mexico but knowing that’s doubtful. Frustrated and progressively alienated from everyone, Garrett builds up and focuses his rage incrementally. James Coburn, in perhaps his most impressive performance, portrays him as a lonely man whose doubts are drowned in alcohol. Full of painful guilt and self-disdain, Garrett finally does the bloody deed and rides away alone, with a child throwing rocks at him. He’s mournfully resentful of his circumstances and his choices, having taken the assignment from men for whom he had no respect and called “big pecker heads” to their faces.
more from Stanley Crouch at slate.com here.