After a brief theatrical window, John Lee Hancock‘s The Highwaymen is now playing on Netflix. A couple of weeks ago I posted a paywalled HE-plus review. As a special one-time-only Saturday morning allowance, here it is gratis. What the hell, right?
“The Highwaymen is a decent enough thing — a flavorful period procedural about how the notorious Bonnie and Clyde were ambushed and cut into shreds and pieces by ex-Texas Rangers Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) and Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson)…oh, Maney! On a quiet woodsy Louisiana road on 5.23.34, way down in Bienville Parish.
The killers were actually Hamer and Gault and four other guys. They unloaded big-time and put between 25 and 50 bullets into each criminal. And nobody gave a damn if one was a woman who liked to read movie magazines.
Arthur Penn and Warren Beatty’s Bonnie and Clyde (’67) didn’t exactly sympathize with the infamous pair, but portrayed them as crazy none-too-brights on an impulsive, violent romp across the dust-bowl states. Or, if you will, spirited working-class outlaws pushing back against a rigged Depression-era system that made things tough on poor working folks.
The Highwaymen is the flip side of the coin. The basic view is that Bonnie and Clyde were diseased and inhuman and that somebody had to put them down like rabid dogs, and that it took a couple of tough old coots like Hamer and Gault to get the job done.
On top of which the aging Hamer and Gault are portrayed as the last of a dying breed, wondering at times if they “have it” any more, whether or not their instincts have gone to seed, whether they’re respected. All is well by the finale.
Born in 1884, Gault was 50 at the time of Bonnie and Clyde’s killing, and far from what anyone would call “old.” Costner, born in January ’55, was 63 or thereabouts when they filmed, or 13 years creasier than the Real McCoy.
Bonnie and Clyde is a much better film but The Highwaymen is…well, certainly okay as far as it goes.
I only have two problems with it. One, the fact that the hunt-down story is drawn out and padded with this and that — it really didn’t have to run 132 minutes. And two, just prior to the massacre Hancock and screenwriter John Fusco throw in a phoney “Greedo shoots first” element.
In actuality the six lawmen killers were armed and ready when Bonnie and Clyde pulled over to help a friend (actually their betrayer) change a tire. As soon as they stopped the six started firing — automatic weapons, shotguns, pistols. In The Highwaymen Costner steps out from behind the bushes, aims a rifle at the duo and says “get ’em up.” A lightning cut shows Bonnie or Clyde reaching for a weapon and then the six lawmen start shooting. The implication is that their pursuers gave the duo a chance to obey and surrender. Nope.
Other than this you could do a lot worse than watch The Highwaymen.
I especially enjoyed a scene in which Costner/Hamer buys a large arsenal of weapons from a gun store in Lubbock, Texas. It ends when the store proprietor asks Hamer if he minds being asked what he wants all this firepower for. Hamer says “nope, don”t mind” and then says nothing. End of exchange.
This is an out-and-out steal, of course, from a nearly identical scene in Don Siegel‘s Charley Varrick (’73). After Walter Matthau buys a load of explosives the store owner says, “Do you mind if I ask what this is for?” Matthau grins and goes “nope, not at all.” End of exchange.