Thanks to the undeniable chemistry of Paul Newman and Robert Redford1969 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a gripping depiction of brotherly love. Deliberately evoking raw emotion from his stars’ interactions, the director George Roy Hill presents a complex fabrication of male friendship that oscillates between infighting and brotherly affection. Telling the story of two outlaws doing their best to leave their dangerous ways behind, the film revels in the titular characters’ mutual admiration despite their obvious differences. In many ways, it represents the authenticity of the life of friends.
Loosely based on a true story (soon to be remixed by Amazon), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid features two outlaws who fight their way to infamy, as they rob trains, banks, and any other establishment they aim for. Butch (Newman) uses his wits to maintain leadership of their “Hole in the Wall” gang, while Sundance (Redford) dug in safely next to Butch’s throne with his deft marksmanship. Sundance finds time to visit his former girlfriend Etta Place (Catherine Ross), who also goes on a sort of romantic bike ride with Butch. But soon, the duo go on another train robbery, which turns out to be a tragic mistake. The train has been used as bait, and an expert group of trackers and mercenaries pursue the fleeing duo. Failing to shake their hunters, Butch and Sundance take Etta and flee to Bolivia to go straight and start from scratch. However, when their new boss is killed in a failed robbery attempt while working as guards, they decide it’s best for them to return to their robbery ways, which leads to…let’s call it a result less than favorable.
Butch and Sundance’s Refreshing Sense of Brotherhood
From the start of the film, Butch and Sundance display an interesting bond with each other. They are opposites in a sense. Butch is the charismatic sage whose mouth often gets him into trouble. On the other hand, Sundance lets its actions do the talking, and the legend of its gun is known in every corner of the West. Like magnets of different polarities, their divergent personalities are what bring them together and make them a force to be reckoned with.
We see glimpses of this in the sequence where Butch is challenged to a duel by Harvey Logan for control of their gang and asks Sundance not to interfere. Butch whispers to his partner that if he loses, Sundance should still kill Logan. Using his mouth as a weapon, Butch distracts Logan and kicks him in the groin before knocking him out. In just a few minutes, we see how Butch’s verbal acuity can come in handy, the fear and respect for Sundance’s ability, and the sheer trust the two have for each other. Butch didn’t need to convince Sundance to grant his request, but we know that if he had fallen in the duel, his brother would have his back no matter what. He asks viewers to think of their own best friends, which gives them comfort to know someone who would act like Sundance.
Another thing that makes Butch and Sundance’s friendship so genuine and emotionally invested is how they reveal their insecurities to each other. When Butch takes Etta for a bike ride, the film shows them as a couple that could have been. The sexual tension between the two is extremely palpable, and it’s confirmed by Etta’s question about whether they would have been together had she met Butch first. He shrugs and Sundance surprises them in an embrace, with Butch jokingly telling him he was stealing his wife. Sundance fires them and gives him the go-ahead to take it. There’s absolutely no hint of jealousy, despite Etta’s attraction to Butch, creating an easy relationship between two close friends that’s refreshing in its lack of drama. If the figurative “bro code” had been written in the Old West era, Butch and Sundance would have been the centerfold.
Butch and Sundance’s friendship never wavers
It is also relevant to see that the faults of one are covered by the abilities of the other. Essentially, Butch is the thinker while Sundance is the doer. During their wild escape from skilled trackers, the duo are forced to high jump into a fast moving river. The perpetually stoic Sundance now shows emotion and mentions to his partner that he can’t swim. Instead of comforting him, Butch bursts out laughing, which makes the audience laugh too. It sounds familiar, like how many people would find the humor in helping his brother out of a sticky situation. That is, after all, what true friends do. The two end up jumping into the water to escape and are free from their tracker’s eyes for the time being. In another sequence, when the two finally catch up with the bandits who killed their employer in Bolivia, they find themselves in a dire situation. The bandits refuse to surrender, and Butch and Sundance are forced to draw their guns. When Sundance orders him to take out some of their enemies, Butch conveniently confesses that he’s never shot anyone before. Sundance takes over with Butch joining, and they end up eliminating all of their enemies. Their egos never prevent them from opening up their fears and weaknesses to each other. Their bond is strengthened and reminiscent of the public’s confessions of their insecurities with their own friends.
When the authorities finally catch up with them, Butch and Cassidy engage in a bloody shootout. With both men injured, they seek refuge in a corner of the building, surrounded by nowhere to go. They realize this subconsciously and exchange pleasantries through playful insults. Despite the good times they shared, Butch and Sundance are left with only the memories and thrills they’ve shared over the years. In the most moving shot of the entire film, the couple walks out with guns as the frame freezes. It is an enduring and mythological image that evokes the partnership of two best friends.
What’s interesting is that even through the harsh eyes of the Western, Butch and Sundance embody the sensitivity, happiness, and despair of true friends. It is a timeless representation, a mirror of modern intimate friendships. Sure, they bicker like any other couple, but their platonic relationship is rock solid. It’s a pretty heartwarming thought that Butch and Sundance covered up to the bitter end. At the end, after the credits, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid makes us want to call our best friend, crack open a few cold beers, and swap repeat stories until sunrise. It is a moving piece of art that reminds us of that person in our own life who would be there for us in our darkest times.