Starring Kevin Costner, Woody Harrelson, Kathy Bates, John Carrol Lynch, Kim Dickens, Thomas Mann, William Sadler, W. Earl Brown, Emily Brobst, Edward Bossert
Written John Fusco
Directed by John Lee Hancock
Reviewed by Patrick & Paul Gibbs
Out of Four
Director John Lee Hancock has never been a cutting edge kind of guy. Armed with a filmography that includes The Rookie, The Blind Side and Saving Mr. Banks, he's a straight shooter who specializes in straightforward character oriented crowd pleasers for people who like to lean back in their seats and say "they don't make pictures like that anymore", aren't interested in big surprises and prefer comforting throwbacks to groundbreaking, daring art or effects filled blockbusters. But he is very good at what he does, and he knows how to deliver.
In Hancock's latest, The Highwaymen, it's 1934, and murderers and robbers Bonnie Parker, Clyde Barrow and Henry Methvyn stage a daring breakout from the Eastham Prison Farm. It isn't long before they have murdered another six police officers, and Lee Simmons (John Carroll Lynch), the head of the Texas Prison System, talks Governor Ma Ferguson (Kathy Bates) into handing the case over to former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner). "Why don't we just dig up Wyatt Earp?" Ferguson exclaims (and Bates is such a good actress that the irony of the fact that Hancock is doing exactly that doesn't feel overplayed). Hamer is reluctant to take on the job at first, but accepts the case out of a sense of outrage at the romanticised version of Bonnie and Clyde as Robin Hood style heroes (the Costner irony stops there, which is good, because there really is no place in the story for a baseball field or the earth being covered by water) and he enlists the aid of his former partner Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson) in his search for the infamous outlaws.
|Kevin Costner as Frank Hamer.|
(Image Courtesy Netflix)
|Woody Harrelson as Maney Gault.|
(Image Courtesy Netflix)
The million dollar question here is: how does it all stack up to Arthur Penn's 1967 masterpiece Bonnie and Clyde? That's where the reviews have been less than kind thus far, and the mistake that is being made is the belief that the two films must be matched up directly to each other. The comparison is inevitable due to subject matter, and the question of whether Hancock and screenwriter John Fusco are trying to make a rebuttal to that film's death or glory view of the famous young couple (as potent as the Hamer/Wyatt Earp connection may be, the far more interesting piece of irony is the casting of the lead in Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers as his partner). But the two films are not only opposites in point of view, but in their intent and approach to filmmaking. Where Bonnie and Clyde was a hip and bold film for a new generation, The Highwaymen is at best ambivalent toward the 18-35 demographic, targeting a completely different audience. It's the kind of movie that is more interested in monologues about traumatic events that happened thirty years ago than in breaking any molds.
If you are going into a John Lee Hancock movie starring Kevin Costner expecting to see something bold and hip, you're looking to be let down big time. While there are definitely some opportunities lost in terms of delving deeper into the question of whether a hardened killer like Hamer is any more worthy of romanticism than Bonnie and Clyde were just because he did it for the government (the movie follows the model of the '90's post Unforgiven western by brooding about violence without fully condemning it), The Highwayman knows what it wants to be and it largely succeeds.
If you wanted something different, that mostly isn't this movie's problem, it's yours, and you have every right to look elsewhere.
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