Now this is a bloody good movie! I especially liked it for it sticking to its centre plot. And it’s based on a true story – how they caught Bonnie and Clyde. The best part, they never once glorify the duo, while thus far we have only seen them being shown as some kind of heroes. At the end of the day, outlaws are just that, outlaws.
Though it comes after more than a half-century since Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde portrayed the gangster couple in a manner that cast them as anti-establishment rebels, The Highwaymen aims to set the record straight. It’s a celebration of the two lawmen most responsible for ending their bloody crime wave.
The story is well presented in the way that it shows you two main characters that have been laid off and are contacted again, since their skills are irreplaceable. They have life struggles (like all of us), specifically around money, morality and age. There are scenes of a chase where you see the old wide waisted protagonists panting as if they were about to collapse! Yet, true to their characters, there is no compromise they make about the task at hand. Neither are they deterred by the jibs taken at them by the other agencies involved, equipped with younger men and better tech - wire tapping and aerial recon! The two hate Hoover and his men. And I can’t help but think that I did enjoy the Leo Di Cap movie on Hoover.
There’s a good bit of humor too, from the agencies deploying a tin man to catch the criminals to how their investigation nuggets get leaked. There are also characters besides the duo of Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson, who bring in some Texan quirks and make it funny.
While Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow are represented here more or less as fleetingly glimpsed abstractions, in the manner of anonymous re-enactors in a cable-TV historical documentary, legendary Texas Ranger Frank Hamer aka Pancho and his redoubtable sidekick Maney Gault are vividly and approvingly depicted as aged but not obsolete old-school heroes.
For long stretches, The Highwaymen relies almost entirely on the chemistry generated by Costner and Harrelson to sustain interest, as Hamer and Gault follow their gut instincts while methodically follow clues and connect dots overlooked by other lawmen. Their approach is dogged, even plodding, but it’s obvious that they couldn’t work much faster if they tried. Gault needs to take frequent bathroom breaks, a running gag that never gets tiresome. And yet, not unlike John Wayne during his late-period films, both men can manhandle younger guys who need manhandling when the need arises. It’s just that, in their case, they have more frequent need to back up their fists with weapons.
As a result, Costner and Harrelson spend a good deal of time discussing the responsibilities that weigh heavily upon them as they continue their manhunt, and their differing yet ultimately complementary philosophies regarding violent responses to violent criminals. Costner is the more dour of the pair, though he is allowed more than his fair share of dryly humorous remarks, while Harrelson is freer to fling frequent wisecracks, and the mix is most entertaining. There is a high-speed car chase across dusty flatlands that ends with Hamer and Gault being outmaneuvered by their quarries. Gault is so embarrassed, he’s moved to question his and Hamer’s abilities - “Maybe it ain’t in us no more.” But Hamer remains resolved. He knows what they must do, even though neither he nor Gault take any apparent delight when the deed is done.
Towards the end, the final climax of the gangster duo being dealt with, you see the final scene of the American public still going gaga over the two and all the credit being given to Hoover and his boys. Of course, Ma Ferguson is most kicked too! And of course, our two men couldn’t care about it all. Hamer refuses a telephone interview worth $1000 and Gault vocally tells the man bringing the offer to fuck off!
The only part that was somewhat incomplete in the movie for me, is that they do not establish well, as to why the gangster duo was so celebrated. Why was Bonnie influencing fashion? Why did Clyde choose this life? Why does she limp? I mean sure, India has more honours students than America has students, so fine, I can understand why they loved Bonnie and Clyde. But it feels like, once you’ve seen The Highwaymen, you’ll need to watch Bonnie & Clyde again, and then watch The Highwaymen once again! Just to get a full 360 perspective. And that’s too much work, and movies shouldn’t be work. Unless they belong to the MCU. And since DC(C)U is combust (#BatmanForever #BatfleckMustDie). No?
Check out the trailer here:
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