His first film after the controversially brutal Straw Dogs (1971), Sam Peckinpah's Junior Bonner (1972) is gun-, gore-, and death-free. Jeb Rosebrook's sweetly comic screenplay explores familiar Peckinpah themes of masculine individuality and the end of the West, but this time in a modern-day rodeo setting; the rituals are literally for show, but the cowboy values endure. Aging competitor Junior and his former rodeo champ father Ace would rather go down riding bucking bulls and mining for gold rather than retire in a mobile home park built by Junior's greedy brother on the bull-dozed remains of the family ranch. Though Rosebrook and Peckinpah illuminate the Pyrrhic victory inherent in their quests, Junior and Ace's shared integrity makes them the sentimental heroes. Peckinpah's signature slow-motion montages and zooms simultaneously energize and eulogize the rodeo action, as well as the destruction of Ace's old home. Steve McQueen, Robert Preston, and Ida Lupino turn in finely tuned performances as Junior, Ace, and resigned Bonner matriarch Elvira. Mis-marketed as just another McQueen actioner rather than the gentle character study that it was, Junior Bonner was a box-office disappointment; the Peckinpah-McQueen pair would thrive financially with their more conventional vehicle The Getaway (1972).
by Lucia Bozzola review