No, the film wouldn’t be nothing without them, but it’s their over-masculine insults trying to mask their deep care for one another that makes them both funny and endearing, as does their care-free attitude about theft. Hill reflects all of this in his film and it makes it that much better.
The movie follows its titular outlaws in the twilight of their infamous careers. Their reputation precedes them and their age, particularly Butch’s, catches up with them. Throughout the film is a sense that times are changing and that they won’t be able to keep robbing banks and trains forever, an appropriate and meaningful foreshadow that affects the film. Things stay good for part of the film, but eventually someone is on their trail and they’re just as crafty. Butch and Sundance go on the run, unable to shake them off the trail.
Newman brings his usual swagger to the role of Butch. He’s clearly aging, but his idealism and vision for finding the next big job never fades, even when it gets him into trouble. Newman carries the perfect sense of humor and is never afraid to make Butch seem vulnerable, as legendary as he is. Redford is the skilled, more easily angered of the two, always keeping his logic handy. He’s always quick to insult Butch but always quick to defend him. The unspoken bond between these two is strong and excellent.
The cinematography in this film is top notch, especially in the beginning. Conrad L. Hall gives these men the mystique, makes each scene feel like a tall tale or a legend. It’s really quite beautiful and the changes from sepia to living color sell this mood even more. Even more than the images, the choice of scoring this film is the most interesting and daring choice of all. Burt Bacharach provides an old saloon theme, a more positive tune as his only scoring and then writes the classic tune “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” to accompany a care-free montage. The music echoes not the danger and peril as would a typical Western score, but the joy and timelessness of the story. It seems strange at first, but it’s the right choice given the film’s themes.
No one forgets a great on-screen tandem and that is Newman and Redford. There’s an undeniable chemistry between them though they are both strong enough to star on their own. It’s this duel alpha male butting of heads that makes them play off each other so well and ultimately not be a contest of upstaging.