“The Highwaymen” is old-fashioned, yet fashioned well
Views 32 | Time to read: 3 minutes | Uploaded: 4 - 15 - 2019 | By: Craig Odenwald
These days, one is bound to hear an adventurous, thrill-seeking pair compared to Bonnie and Clyde. But who was this crime-loving couple, and should their unjust actions in an unjust age be lambasted or lauded? “The Highwaymen” strives to find an answer.
Directed by John Lee Hancock, “The Highwaymen” is a Netflix film based on the true story of the 1934 hunt for Bonnie and Clyde by two former Texas Rangers, Frank Hamer and Maney Gault. The nation’s top law enforcement can’t get it done: Bonnie and Clyde blast through blockades and gun down patrolmen without remorse. Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson portray Hamer and Gault, respectively, and play wonderfully off of each other. While one might expect Costner to be the more law-abiding, sympathetic officer and Harrelson to be the meaner, unforgiving one, the film decides to switch things up. Costner starts off noble and reluctant to be back on the job. But when seen through Harrelson’s eyes, Costner becomes more headstrong and relentless in his pursuit of justice, furious about Bonnie and Clyde’s national popularity. His attitude ties into the film’s message about “taking one wrong turn”: making a decision that changes one’s life forever. The film explores Hamer’s intense commitment to his single-minded mission; that exploration benefits greatly from Harrelson’s earnest desire to remain a good man while on the brutal hunt.
“The Highwaymen” gives a sense of the old-fashioned in both its presentation and its pacing. Art Director Kelly Curley, and set designers Dave Kelsey and Jessica Stumpf, weave together a stunning recreation of 1930s America, showcasing settings from Dallas to Oklahoma to everywhere in between. Model T’s whirl up dust across open Kansas roads, and the crowds are clothed in their Sunday best. “The Highwaymen” entertains most when it soaks in this setting and sets the characters to work on collecting intel. The pacing is deliberate but never slow; Hamer and Gault’s townspeople interviews and interrogations alike are well-written and nuanced. The aging ex-Rangers are experienced, but the intensity of the chase makes them question whether they have a little too much experience. They’re underdogs, which helps raise the stakes past the unfortunate lack of menace from the antagonists. Clyde and Bonnie’s speaking roles are very limited; the focus is on the highwaymen and the world they live in. Seeing them try to navigate through that world is what makes “The Highwaymen” excel beyond the conventions of other crime films. The heroes aren’t seen as the heroes; instead, Bonnie and Clyde are revered by the public. “The Highwaymen” examines what kind of justice is true justice and whether someone’s idols can always live up to expectations. The jury may still be out on that question, but in the case of “The Highwaymen”, there’s no question the film is another fine addition to Netflix’s collection.