For me the allure of Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson playing Texas Rangers sent to hunt down the notorious Bonnie and Clyde is undeniable. I’m a long-time fan of Costner who vanished from the screen for a while but seems to have nicely settled into a new stage of his career. And then you have Harrelson – always interesting, always entertaining.
The two pair up in “The Highwaymen”, a period crime thriller that was first pitched as early as 2005. Screenwriter John Fusco’s original vision was to have Paul Newman and Robert Redford play the veteran lawmen. After sitting in development for years with Universal Studios, Netflix acquired the rights in 2017 with two new leads and John Lee Hancock set to direct.
“The Highwaymen” quickly sets itself up as slow-burning crime investigation thriller. The story starts in 1934, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow having been on the run for over two years. The notorious couple carry out a violent jailbreak at Eastham Prison Farm in Texas. Lee Simmons (the always good John Carroll Lynch), head of the Texas Department of Corrections, urges an image-conscious Governor “Ma” Ferguson (Kathy Bates) to take drastic measures to finally end the murderous crime spree.
Simmons convinces a reluctant Ferguson to hire former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer (Costner) to track down Bonnie and Clyde and “put ’em on the spot” (you can probably guess what that means). An interesting bit of history – Hamer and forty other Rangers resigned after “Ma” Ferguson won a second term. She had been proven corrupt and quickly fired all remaining Rangers replacing them with her own more ‘modern’ law enforcement. Simmons and Fusco use that internal tension several times during the film.
Costner shows us an abrasive, hard-edged Frank Hamer (love the performance). He’s a principled man clearly bitter over the dismissal of the Rangers but driven by the death of other lawmen to put an end to the Barrow gang. Hamer hesitantly brings along his old partner Maney Gault (Harrelson) and the pair begin studying the gangs patterns and following their blood trail through the lower Midwest. Harrelson is a nice complement to Costner, working at a different temperature and offering a needed balance to their mission.
It’s not a stretch to call this an inadvertent companion piece to Arthur Penn’s beloved 1967 picture “Bonnie and Clyde”. Penn painted a somewhat romanticized portrait of the Barrow gang while “The Highwaymen” distinctly looks from the lawmen’s perspective. It allows for a critical view of the rogue couple’s cult-like following and of how cultural fame is often rooted in absurdity. Glamorizing news stories, skewed comparisons to Robin Hood, young women dressing like Bonnie Parker. “They’re more adored than movie stars” one character mutters.
Admittedly there is an old-fashioned flavor to “The Highwaymen” that is sure to push some people away. You see it in how it tells its story and even in how it’s made. I get the inevitable complaints of “too slow” and “not enough action”. Yet I found myself loving it – the slow burn, the prickly Costner, the subtle moral questions it tosses out there. It all works, like a cool flashback to a classic film style I’ve never grown tired of. But how will that play today? It will be interesting to see.
VERDICT – 4.5 STARS
I loved this movie. It is indeed a throwback with story telling and allowing characters room to breathe. Both Costner and Harrelson are excellent together and give outstanding performances. It made me grin from ear to ear to see a movie made like this in this hyper action era. Totally agree with your score.
Awesome to hear. I was all-in from the very beginning. You’re spot-on about Costner and Harrelson. They have a perfect chemistry for this type of story. And I failed to mention this in my review, but what did you think of the production design? I thought they nailed the 1930s setting.
Totally nailed it. They deserve recognition for an excellent job. Netflix is really upping their game with some of their original movies.
100% agree. You won’t catch me dismissing Netflix originals. The last two years they have had movies in my Top 10 at the end of the year.
If I find a good torrent for this film, I’ll go check it out as I just like the idea of seeing Costner and Harrelson kill bad guys.
They are REALLY good together. Hope you get a chance to see it. It really doesn’t have the violence you would think. It’s all about the investigation.
I thought it was an OK movie. Didn’t have an issue with the speed of it, but not really a lot happened in it. The performances were great though 🙂
I loved the hunt, the characters, the critique of celebrity status, the moral questions, etc. Really worked for me, kinda like a classic hard-boiled detective movie.
I can’t agree with you this time, Keith. I was really bored.
LOL, no problem. I know it won’t resonate with some. I loved it though. It was all about the lead characters and their points of view. I found it to be an interesting new perspective to a pretty well known story.
Interesting angle to the Bonnie and Clyde story. I’ve seen this floating around on Netflix, and will definitely be giving it a shot.
I found it to be very interesting. I can understand how others were done in by the film’s deliberate pacing. I loved that about it. Gave us more time to be in the heads of the two main characters which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Hope you can check it out soon.
This is such a winner. Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson are a joy to view on the screen.
100% with you. Such a good chemistry between them. Did you have an issue with the pacing? That’s a gripe I’ve seen but it wasn’t a problem for me at all.
The pacing was spot on, it keeps with the whole narrative and the era.
100% agree. Completely worked for me.