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'The Highwaymen' Movie Review

This flipped take on the 'Bonnie and Clyde' story had a lot of potential but instead settles for par.

  • Released: 15th March 2019 (Netflix)
  • Length: 132 Minutes
  • Certificate: 15
  • Director: John Lee Hancock
  • Starring: Kevin Costner, Woody Harrelson, Kathy Bates, John Carroll Lynch, Kim Dickens, Thomas Mann, and William Sadler

 

1967’s Bonnie and Clyde was a striking film in many ways; breaking down cinematic tropes and leaving viewers with a shocking conclusion. Over fifty years later, The Highwaymen on Netflix flips things the other way, chronicling the police and their hunt for the infamous criminals.

In 1934, Bonnie and Clyde (played by Emily Brobst and Edward Bossert) break out members of their gang from prison and the local authorities hire two Texas Rangers to track them down. Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) and Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson) are both experienced but aging members of justice and the film follows their search from beginning to end, never leaving their perspective. The Highwaymen is firmly set on telling the opposite side of the story, most notably by concealing the faces of the notorious couple throughout the film. This works at heightening their elusive nature and for the most part, the film proceeds on a realistic level. Where things run into trouble is the development side of things. The groundwork is established clearly but there isn’t much depth beyond that; the Texas Rangers goal is straightforward without much in the way of conflict or complexity. The Highwaymen doesn’t follow all the way through on its premise, most notably holding back the frustrations of the law in tracking down the notorious duo.

With such well-known actors on the box, you’d think The Highwaymen would make full use of them; unfortunately, this isn’t quite the case. Kevin Costner as Frank Hamer and Woody Harrelson as Maney Gault aren’t bad in the slightest, just extremely limited on what they can accomplish. It’s good casting and there are glimpses of tension growing between the two men. With both characters, they play around with the theme of growing older and less adept at chasing down crime, but these undertones simply exist and are never properly followed through. The same is true of the side characters. While we’re given some establishing scenes to present the families of the two rangers, there’s not enough time spent with them to generate sympathy. Also disappointingly hollow is Kathy Bates as Governor Miriam Ferguson; again another great actress relegated to some brief conversation scenes. There should have been more moments between her and the officers to create more dramatic tension as the police struggle to find the antagonists.

With the 1930s, you’d expect some accurate production design and The Highwaymen does succeed here. Costume designs and strumming instruments work well at grounding the setting and the sets the characters inhabit are also well-produced. The soundtrack is also strong, making use of mainly string instruments to ground the setting. Where it really makes an impression though is its authenticity; the film was shot in real life locations pertaining to the crimes committed and overall, The Highwaymen does a great job capturing the culture of the time and the sensationalism that came with Bonnie and Clyde themselves. On the other hand, though, there are shots that feel repetitive, particularly those wide shots that show the two officers driving through the countryside without a lot happening. Given that it was set during Great Depression, the film could have provided more background context and events to flesh out the time period, thus drawing the audience in more seamlessly.

The Highwaymen, in summary, is a film that’s just “there.” I can commend the film’s push for realism and its detailed production values but everything else is merely passable. With the huge pedigree both Costner and Harrelson possess, you’d think they’d go deeper with plot and character. The Highwaymen instead settles for par; I can’t help thinking it could have been better.

Rating: 3/5 stars (fair).