The Highwaymen (2019)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on April 16, 2019 @ tonymacklin.net.

The Highwaymen is a wayward movie. It tries to blend actuality, lyricism, and social criticism. At key times, it's an awkward blend.

The strength of The Highwaymen is the two gifted main actors. Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson portray the two former Texas Rangers, who pursued Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Costner is Frank Hamer and Woody Harrelson is Maney Gault. They humanize their characters. The film is worth seeing for their performances. It could be titled Frank and Maney.

Emily Brobst and Edward Bossert are stunt doubles, who are negligible actors in The Highwaymen as the infamous Bonnie and Clyde. Brobst has been a stunt double in The Walking Dead. Make your own joke.

The Highwaymen will be compared to the classic Bonnie and Clyde (1967), and a lot of viewers will be disappointed. But in some ways it makes an interesting comparison.

Even though Bonnie and Clyde was mythic and inventive, rather than actual, it was truly told. It delivered on its fantastic promise. Warren Beatty (recently turned 82 years old) and Faye Dunaway were in no way similar to the actual Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, but director Arthur Penn made us suspend our disbelief. The characters became mythic figures.

The Highwaymen tries to inject actuality into the film. The climactic scene of Bonnie and Clyde being slain by the barrage of gunfire is photographed in The Highwaymen on the same country road on which it actually happened.

But the film veers away from the reality and substitutes contrivance. When we see the bloody face of Bonnie, it looks like artificial make-up. She appears like a made-up Kewpie doll.

Then the film switches to heavy-handed social criticism. Director John Lee Hancock, who directed The Blindside (2009) and Saving Mr. Banks (2013) likes blatancy and sentimentality rather than reality. Both previous films had an essential softness.

In The Highwaymen, Hancock tries to show us how crowds idolized Bonnie and Clyde, when wild crowds storm the vehicles carrying their corpses. But as they leap on the car, they seem more extras than real people.

In 1967 Bonnie and Clyde was a potent, credible experience. Audiences left the theater in silence. They had experienced shocking cinema.

Much of the unforgettable effect came from the marvelous editing by Dede Allen, who put together the balletic, disturbing, violent climax. She didn't even get a nomination for an Academy Award for her brilliant editing in Bonnie and Clyde. It is depressing to realize that the divine Dede never won an Oscar in her career for her extraordinary ability and artistry.

With Bonnie and Clyde the conclusion was shock; in The Highwaymen it is schlock. Bonnie and Clyde must be seen in a theater; Netflix's The Highwaymen can be watched on a streaming device.

It's a road not taken.

© 2000-2019 Tony Macklin