THE HIGHWAYMEN Review
Nowadays, most people will recognise Bonnie and Clyde as the two people that said the wrong name at the Oscars. Back in the 30s, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were regarded as heroes to the disenfranchised and younger generation. Off the back of the Great Depression, Americans revelled in the evil Robin Hood types, who stole from the modern-day rich (the banks) and keep it for themselves. They died martyrs for people who idolized them. In the 60s, this same respect was given from a new generation that revealed in a new kind of cinema that glorified the criminal antics and relished in the freedom denied most young adults at the time of release.
However, there is more to the story of Bonnie and Clyde than rebellion and empowerment. There was a massive body trail left behind them, and a defunct arm of the law, revived from the era of cowboys to track them down. The Highwaymen follows the story of Bonnie and Clyde from the perspective of the two men responsible for bringing them to justice; Frank Hamer (Costner) and Gault (Harrelson).
John Lee Hancock’s revisionist take on a modern American folktale, is a methodical, gorgeous neo-Western with two actors slipping into roles they’ve done multiple times over. It doesn’t break the wheel, but it does what it sets out to do well.
Costner and Harrelson inhabit the classic buddy-comedy archetypes; the serious one and the comedic one (guess which is which?). While generic, the actor’s chemistry is as sharp as their suits and car. Another cliché in the two leads is the aged lawmen that clash with the modern-day law and can no longer keep up with the spire, youthful criminals. They undermine the cops for relying on “science” and instead use their down to earth techniques they always relied on. They also struggle to keep up with the ‘young ‘uns’ and have to rely on their ‘experience’ to outsmart them to compensate for their tired bodies. Even if it wasn’t based on well known true story, the film hits most of the beats you’d expect it to.
Where the film will keep your interest is in Hancock’s directing, Thomas Newman’s score reminiscent of the Spaghetti Western and John Schwartzman’s sweeping cinematography. The film looks and feels like a classic Western, almost intentionally. Wide shots of the vast Austin terrain, accompanied by the string heavy score illicit an image of Paul Newman and Robert Redford in the roles (a feeling that Hancock has addressed in originally wanting to cast the pair in the lead roles).
In a meta spin on the original film, Hancock chooses to vilify Bonnie and Clyde and their rabid following through concealing the pairs faces and shooting the adoring fans as more fanatics than admirers. Bonnie and Clyde’s appearance is never seen until the final fateful massacre; the myth is dispelled and the pair are revealed to be nothing more than human.
For anyone only aware of what Bonnie and Clyde did, the film is a great insight into the other side of the story. Kathy Bates essentially cameos as Ma Ferguson, the first female governor of Texas, who risks her political favour by reviving the Texas Rangers, a branch of the law that existed in a savage time that operated by their own rules. In a harrowing scene, Harrelson describes one of the atrocities committed by him and his partner, while Costner is light by the fading cigarette in his mouth; highlighting the scars the two men still carry with them, and the few emotional twists in the film.
The Highwaymen is a very “dad” movie: based on a true story about lawmen doing good, it reads like a historical book but if the book was faded; a hint of flavour to what would have been a drab story.