Sunday 14 November 2021

Movie Review: The Highwaymen (2019)

A chase drama and thriller, The Highwaymen follows two enforcement officers recruited to stop the carnage caused by Bonnie and Clyde. The film is patient, rich with details, and infused with grizzled humanity.

It's 1934 in Texas, and violent criminals Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker are folk heroes. After the pair embarrass Governor Miriam "Ma" Ferguson (Kathy Bates) by orchestrating a prison break, she reluctantly agrees to call upon retired Texas Ranger Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) to hunt down the couple. He teams up with his ex-partner Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson) and despite advancing years and limited physical abilities they hit the road to try and intercept the elusive outlaw couple.

Working on the theory that criminals always go home, Hamer and Maney focus on the Dallas area, but the locals are protective of the famous couple and close ranks. Bonnie and Clyde's killing spree continues, with several police officers murdered and the FBI helpless. Hamer and Maney maintain a dogged pursuit and cross into neighbouring Oklahoma then Louisiana, and gradually gather enough clues to close-in on their targets.

An essential antidote to the romanticism of Bonnie And Clyde (1967), The Highwaymen is the other side of the story. Here the criminals are infrequently spotted bloodthirsty killers, ambushing and murdering police officers for fun, including Bonnie applying the final shotgun blast to the head of already fallen men. The John Fusco script demonstrates no sympathy towards any societal or economic justifications. Clyde's father (William Sadler) gets one long scene to try and explain his son's actions, and is summarily deflated by Hamer.

As for the folk hero status of the two murderers, The Highwaymen adopts an exasperated shake-of-the-head stance. For deep-seated reasons, this is a society that venerates anti-authoritarianism. Men like Frank Hamer and Maney Gault can do little other than bypass the nausea and get on with the job. 

And so director John Lee Hancock settles down to tell the story of two former Texas Rangers, themselves no strangers to bloodletting. They carry deep emotional scars, and at the start of the movie are hiding behind domesticity (Hamer is more successful) to bury the pain. Through Department of Corrections Chief Lee Simmons (John Carroll Lynch), the state calls upon them to unretire and sanctions two more killings.

Hamer and Maney are old, unable to run after suspects, and well past their sharp shooting days. What they do have is guile and experience, and gradually they recreate their partnership dynamic and make progress. Their quest is long, mistakes are made, and more people die. Through a draggy middle act, Hancock struggles to justify 132 minutes of running time, although the stark vistas of Texas and a landscape dotted with ramshackle depression-era migrant camps offer good visuals.

The two veteran actors help ride out the slow patches, the pauses for reflection well-paced to add texture without interrupting flow. Harrelson and Costner both co-produced and equally invest in their roles, Harrelson as Maney in particular showcasing a maturity to now discern the thin margins between right and wrong. 

The Highwaymen are destined to arrive at a well-known and culturally iconic climax. The joy is in the journey, and two seasoned experts ensure a worthwhile drive.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

We welcome reader comments about this post.