Apparently, it’s old-time true crime season on cable TV.
Hot on the heels of TNT’s “Mob City” — chronicling the battle between cops and the mob in 1940s LA — comes the sepia-toned, but equally bloody, tale of “Bonnie & Clyde.”
The meticulously crafted four-hour, two-night miniseries airs across three separate outlets — sister networks A&E, Lifetime, and History — on Sunday and Monday nights at 9 p.m.
The film digs into the oft-told legend of doomed criminal couple Bonnie Parker (Holliday Grainger) and Clyde Barrow (Emile Hirsch).
The lovers — with occasional help from a rotating cast of gang members — shot and robbed their way across several states during the Great Depression, racking up banner headlines, a serious body count, and, as it turns out, not that much money along the way. (It was the Great Depression after all, as one victimized banker somewhat comically points out to the pair in the film.)
As is often the case in times of desperation, the duo’s short, volatile, and ultimately ill-fated story became so much escapist grist for the mill, thanks in part to the audaciousness of the crimes and the uncharacteristic twist of a pretty, petite woman taking a lead role in them.
Anyone who has seen the 1967 Arthur Penn classic of the same name, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway as the title characters, may be loath to accept another Bonnie and Clyde into their hearts. But both Hirsch and Grainger do a creditable job of getting into the skin of their complicated characters.
Hirsch, whose version of Clyde is oddly gifted with a sort of second sight, is suitably charming, but doesn’t shy away from imbuing Barrow with a sense of desperation as real as his sense of romantic myth-making.
As a small-town waitress with celluloid aspirations, this film’s Parker is a textbook gamine, understandably taken in by Barrow’s magnetism but with her own agenda to make the front page and the ability to put on a show in the courtroom in ways Roxie Hart would admire. Grainger — no stranger to playing muckraking real women after her tenure as Lucrezia Borgia on Showtime’s “The Borgias” — plays her with a determined glint in her eye.
Like “Mob City,” “Bonnie & Clyde” is lovely to look at but director Bruce Beresford (“Driving Miss Daisy”) is as interested in capturing the big-sky setting and gory glamour as he is in depicting some of the brutal realities of the couple’s lives and actions.
Prison, for instance — where Barrow ends up on more than one occasion, and to which Parker smuggles him a gun — is no picnic, and the anguish of those whose loved ones are harmed or lost may not be lingered over, but it is not dismissed either.
The supporting cast is filled with familiar faces doing competent work with a short amount of screen time and a sometimes programmatic script, including Holly Hunter as Parker’s mother Emma, her “Broadcast News” costar William Hurt as Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, and Sarah Hyland, a long way from her role as Haley Dunphy on “Modern Family,” as Blanche, the wife of Barrow’s brother Buck. (That role was memorably, hysterically essayed in an Oscar-winning performance by Estelle Parsons in the 1967 film; definitely watch it if you haven’t seen it.)
The endurance of the couple’s outlaw myth speaks to our fascination with the intersection of true crime and true romance. This iteration of “Bonnie & Clyde” may feed that fascination but it doesn’t shy away from the wreckage found at that intersection.