May 23, 2019
Welcome back and I promise, no Mötley Crüe puns this time. In fact, we’re heading back about fifty years earlier, following two classic lawmen on the trail of two classic criminals, in a story that clearly influence Eminem. For a few other films from around the same time period, check out “Mudbound” (Episode #009), “Some Like It Hot” (Episode #119), “White Zombie” (Episode #152), and “Ann Carver’s Profession” (Episode #159).
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Here we go!
Today’s movie is “The Highwaymen”, the Netflix Original film directed by John Lee Hancock and written for the screen by John Fusco. The film follows Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) and Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson), two former Texas Rangers on the trail of the notorious Bonnie and Clyde across multiple states with the help, and sometimes the hindrance, of the federal and state governments.
I’m at this point in my movie viewing career where I’ve watched long enough to see trends come and go and I’ve seen actors that once ruled the screen struggle to maintain a career, even as the spotlight has shifted away from them. And some then take the spotlight once again in new and exciting ways. I imagine that older actors also use a measure of judgment in choosing which projects to work on, and a paycheck is always nice. It’s fun to watch films starring veteran actors, because you’ve seen enough of their work to get a sense for what they’re bringing to a picture. Today’s film is an example of what happens when actors are bringing something different to their performances.
My biggest complaint about “The Highwaymen” is that the talent, tone, and story never really seem to come together. The driving story is pretty straightforward, with Hamer and Gault chasing Bonnie and Clyde in a fast-paced, high stakes manhunt. But the film is also meant to serve as a character study for both former rangers, and a reflective one at that, with the rangers’ past told more than shown. I would have appreciated a dramatized prequel of sorts that would have shown what being a Texas Ranger was actually like in the late 1800s / early 1900s, to show why two former rangers were perfect for the job. Instead, we mostly receive different forms of the nostalgic “I’m too old for this shit” filler scenes that take the gas out of the chase.
This mismatch of pacing creates one half of the tone problem. The other half struggles with a difficult and sometimes forced relationship between Costner and Harrelson. Costner brings an overly gruff performance as Hamer, which sometimes misfires when undercut by Harrelson’s more comedic performance as Gault. This odd chemistry makes it difficult to treat the more horrific scenes as seriously as should be warranted.
Another minor tone problem, and I’m willing to admit this might be all personal preference, but I found some scenes to look almost too good for a film set in the 1930s. I don’t mean to say that period pieces should be in grainy black and white stock, and there were some excellent sets created and locations chosen for this film to show the poverty of the time. But every now and again, a scene would look a little too new, or would not quite be in line with the dirtier tones seen throughout the rest of the film.
“The Highwaymen” tells the story of the two former Texas Rangers that were involved with the manhunt for Bonnie and Clyde, ultimately cornering and killing their targets. Costner and Harrelson bring somewhat clashing performances as the lead duo, which struggles against a film attempting to tell two stories with very different pacing. Fans of historical dramas that don’t mind a few scenes of intense violence should definitely check out this film, along with any long-time fans of Costner and Harrelson. Everyone else, consider the two-hour investment for what ends up being a mostly decent film.
Rotten Tomatoes: 57%
One Movie Punch: 6.5/10
“The Highwaymen” (2019) is rated R and is currently playing on Netflix.