The Highwaymen Movie Review
The Highwaymen Movie Review Metadata
Bonnie and Clyde were treated as rock stars during their gang’s cavalcade of terror in the early-30’s. The couple murdered as many as nine police officers and many civilians. They robbed banks and gas stations, mowing down anyone that got in their way. Their exploits were glamorized in Arthur Penn’s 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde, starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, furthering history’s idolization. The Academy Award winning film is revered cinema, but Warner Bros. was successfully sued by Gladys Hamer for its depiction of her late husband Frank Hamer.
Netflix’s The Highwaymen, from director John Lee Hancock, sets the story straight on Hamer, “the most famous Texas Ranger in history,” by recounting his investigative process and eventual brutal killing of the murderous duo.
By the time Bonnie and Clyde began their exploits, Hamer (Kevin Costner) and his partner Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson) had already retired from Ranger duty. The Texas Rangers had been outlawed for their own controversial behavior. With bodies mounting and political pressure rising, Texas governor Ma Ferguson (Kathy Bates) was forced to revive the program. An older, less agile Hamer and Gault were enlisted to bring Bonnie and Clyde to justice at any means necessary. The elusive couple met their end in an ambush by the Rangers and local authorities in Louisiana, in May of 1934.
Where Bonnie and Clyde confused the good guys from the bad guys, Hancock’s Highwaymen attempts to flip the labels. Throughout the film, we are never allowed to see Bonnie or Clyde’s faces, presumably, to avoid an emotional connection. We are only given bloody crime scenes and the mourning of numerous peace officers. Bonnie and Clyde bad, Hamer and Gault good. Costner and Harrelson are no spring chickens to these types of roles, delivering deft performances of a complex partnership. Costner’s Hamer is steely-eyed and determined, a counter to his partner’s more level-headed demeanor. But try as they might, neither actor can overcome the film’s general lack of entertainment.
While there is wonderful life-on-the-road cinematography on display in The Highwaymen, the movie amounts to an over-produced, too-long memoir better consumed in the comfort of one’s couch, not within the anxious walls of a movie cinema – the film will have a limited theater engagement mid-March, but eventually releases to Netflix (my recommended venue) on March 29th. The movie clocks in over 2 hours. The investigation is just not that interesting. The final ambush and fact-cards in the pre-roll credits are the most consumable minutes of the film. It’s important to get the facts straight (although that’s apparently up for debate), but The Highwaymen doesn’t make these men any more interesting than their unfortunate portrayal in the better film.