By Chic DiCiccio
If you ever needed a movie to tell you that the 1930s criminals Bonnie and Clyde were not solid individuals, “The Highwaymen” is for you. It’s essentially the exact opposite of 1967’s “Bonnie and Clyde.” Instead of glorifying two criminals as star-crossed lovers, director John Lee Hancock’s police procedural treats them like monsters, rarely showing their faces in full view.
Like most of the movies featured in the recent Netflix barrage, “The Highwaymen” is flawed. While it’s interesting to learn about the two men responsible for tracking Bonnie and Clyde, John Fusco’s script far too often becomes a case of Grumpy Old Lawmen.
But if you’re going to make a movie about grizzled veteran lawmen, you’d be hard pressed to find two better actors to do that with than Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson.
“The Highwaymen” opens with the best sequence of the entire movie. Bonnie and Clyde (Emily Brobst and Edward Bossert) cleverly break a handful of their pals out of prison, which famously became the 1934 Eastham Prison Break.
This embarrassing event is the final straw for Texas Governor “Ma” Ferguson (Kathy Bates, highly mailing it in) so she reinstates two former Texas Rangers, which was a group that she disbanded.
Frank Hamer (Costner) is the most decorated and notorious Texas Ranger and despite his and his wife’s (Kim Dickens, blink and you’ll miss her) hesitation, he accepts the offer to lead the hunt for the most famous criminals in American history. His former partner, Maney Gault (Harrelson), is more than willing to join the hunt as he and his family are fairly destitute.
Once Frank and Maney hit the road, “The Highwaymen” stalls out. They are always three steps behind Bonnie and Clyde and considering we all know how and when they catch up with them, it’s all academic. As with most historical films, keeping a captive audience is tricky and the lack of suspense digresses into absolute boredom.
Costner and Harrelson are game, and they have the right amount of sass and grumpiness, but that only goes so far. The middle chunk of the movie mostly is just them driving and sniping at each other. There are barely any moments that make you connect with them, other than hoping these Rangers eventually complete the chase. But of course, we all know they will.
The finale is fairly powerful, and Hancock justly plays it out so there is no sympathy for Bonnie and Clyde. When it ends, it both highlights the brutality of what is essentially an execution and “justice.”
“The Highwaymen” isn’t bad, but it’s a simple build up to a famous event that doesn’t make any of it too compelling. It’s kind of like an interesting history lesson being taught by an extremely boring professor.