Film: “The Highwaymen”
Director: John Lee Hancock
Cast: Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelsen;
Review by: By Subhash K. Jha
Take away the two still-charismatic veteran actors in the lead role, and what have we got here? A rambling, meandering Cowboy-Western which is high on swag but really low on substance.
“The Highwaymen” must have sounded like a swell premise for a film. Two retired Texas rangers in the 1930s are summoned to apprehend “Bonnie & Clyde”. Yes, the same outlawed couple whom Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway played to immortal notoriety in the film “Bonnie & Clyde”.
There is a difference, though. This time in “The Highwaymen”, we look at the legend of Bonnie and Clyde from the opposite perspective. We only see them as shadowy criminals, nothing more while the focus is on the pair of actors who play the law enforcers given the responsibility of nabbing the couple before they create more havoc and grow more heroic in the eyes of the public.
This is the US in the 1930s. The well-mounted film captures the laconic violence of those times when civil rights were not very clearly marked out. There is a nice green-and-red feel to the film where the aching acres of land are silhouetted in the shadows of violence.
The rest of the film relies almost completely on the chemistry between Costner and Harrelson. Both the actors are in brilliant unharnessed form, though Harrelson was far more powerful and moving in the recent in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”. Here in “The Highwaymen”, he is required to tail Costner who makes a comeback after a hiatus. And a welcome one at that.
Seen as a vehicle for two of America’s finest veteran actors, “The Highwaymen” works fine up to a point. But then the minute the plot begins to explore in some detail the relationship between Hamer (Costner) and Gault (Harrelson) and the way they respond to the violence that gripped America’s psyche from the Days of the Wild Wild West, the film begins to come apart at the seams.
There are many uncomfortable passages in the plot. Serious debate points such as the open sales of arms in the US and the ethics of gunning down a woman outlaw, seem to appear unscheduled in the narrative. In the final reckoning, “The Highwaymen” creates no real impact outside its cops-and-robbers aspirations. There is so much that could have been felt and expressed about the evolution of the culture of the heroic outlaw in the US over the years.
All we see is two swift gunmen, played by actors who remain relevant in their 60s, giving the audience a good time in a film that John Wayne would have enjoyed.
I am not sure about Clint Eastwood.
It is relevant that this film demystifies Bonnie and Clyde during the same week that Warren Beatty (who played Clyde) turns 82. The legend lives on.