Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker: Bonnie and Clyde, two of the most notorious criminals in US history – nay, world history – that for two years were untouchable in their killing sprees. Spreading across the Central states of America, they were the celebrities, so to speak, of the era of Public Enemies and their exploits echoed those of Robin Hood to a degree, albeit in a much bloodier (and illegal) way. Eventually, their reign came to an end thanks to a group of Texas Rangers in 1934 and the story of their long tracking of the duo is the subject of John Lee Hancock’s The Highwaymen and, with some strange irony, one of them is played by the former Robin Hood, Kevin Costner, only this time he is American on purpose.
Costner plays Frank Hamer, a former Texas Ranger who after three decades or so of service, retired to a more peaceful life with his wife after governor “Ma” Ferguson (Kathy Bates) reclaimed the office. In fact, her appointment saw a group of rangers tender their exits after she was elected for a second term which in some way may have contributed to Bonnie and Clyde continuing in such a manner. Still, the arrest and capture of the pair was still on the forefront of Ferguson’s mind and, reluctantly, she agrees to Hamer being reinstated to head a special investigation team at the behest of Texas Prison head Lee Simmons (John Carroll Lynch).
He’s reunited with former Ranger partner Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson) who hasn’t enjoyed the same tranquil retirement as Frank, turning to drink to try to soothe his family’s financial problems. Apart, the two men aren’t enjoying themselves, but together they immediately come alive again, resuscitating each others’ live despite their gaining years and set about bringing justice to the country.
So far, so exciting, right? Well, it’s very sad to report that despite all things pointing to the contrary, The Highwaymen is nowhere near as compelling or exhilarating as it should be. At its core, this is a chase movie, the good guys getting further and further away from their target and becoming equally frustrated in their efforts, but it doesn’t have anywhere near as much energy nor dramatics to make the journey as worthwhile as it should, feeling like quite a slow, numbing slog when it should be the opposite. Hancock, the filmmaker behind Sandra Bullock’s Oscar-winning The Blind Side and 2016’s McDonald’s story The Founder, shows some flashes of excitement in the opening salvo – which is the highlight of the film – but despite everything looking the part, the film itself just doesn’t connect.
There is a character study in there as well – how do we let go of what we know we are – and in those more sombre moments, thanks to two brilliant turns from Costner and Harrelson, the two men’s journey into the abyss and out again is stimulating and thoughtful enough to keep you interested – but only just (side note: Thomas Newman’s stirring score is a treat). In the long run, however, The Highwaymen really is a disappointment: it’s certainly worth a watch for reliably ace turns from the two leads, as well as some nice visual flashes, but for a story about such a gripping subject, it’s a shame the film is so flat and dull by comparison.
Scott J.Davis | [rating=2]
Crime, Drama | USA, 2019 | 15 | 29th March 2019 | Netflix Originals | Dir.John Lee Hancock | Kevin Costner, Woody Harrelson, Kim Dickens, John Carroll Lynch, Kathy Bates