The Highwaymen offers different look at Bonnie and Clyde

Photo Credit: The Highwaymen/Netflix/Merrick Morton, Acquired From Netflix Media Center
Photo Credit: The Highwaymen/Netflix/Merrick Morton, Acquired From Netflix Media Center /

The Highwaymen is John Lee Hancock’s Netflix exclusive take on the classic American film Bonnie and Clyde. Where Bonnie and Clyde is a show of how cool the duo is, The Highwaymen shows that they were at heart criminals and needed to be stopped.

John Lee Hancock who has made some pretty important films throughout his career such as The Rookie and The Founder. Now Hancock brings The Highwaymen to the mainstream on Netflix. The Highwaymen is about two retired Texas Rangers Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) and Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson) go out on a chase to catch the notorious criminals Bonnie and Clyde.

The Highwaymen plays off a traditional buddy cop flick but does it in a fairly unique fashion by having it set in the 30s and use it to catch the criminals that many people believed to be a real-life Robin Hood story. Though no masterpiece, The Highwaymen entertains and projects a more appropriate view of how the general public should see criminals. Most films set in the 30s tend to be a look into some sort of criminal activity, but it always romanticizes this concept.

The best scene used to illustrate what I’m talking about is one where Costner’s character Frank Hamer is talking to Clyde’s dad, who is a mechanic. Clyde’s dad argues that the real reason he went bad is because Clyde stole a chicken and was put into a reform school which changed him to be a lifelong criminal.

Hamer responds with, “Did you ever think there had to be something there that caused Clyde Barrow to steal the chicken in the first place?” which offers a totally different view to what is generally accepted on the topic. Basically, it’s a suggestion of the innate nature of Clyde Barrow being spoiled instead of trying to wipe Clyde’s actions onto a society issue. It’s an age-old debate of nature vs. nurture that doesn’t get settled in this film, but it certainly does show where Hancock seems to stand on the argument.

The chemistry between Costner and Harrelson is very enjoyable and adds an element of realism to the film. The desire of the film is to point out how Bonnie and Clyde are truly evil and have lost their humanity instead of focus on the incredibly strong bond between the two leads to engage the viewer.

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Costner brings a grizzled, angry cop to the table with his performance of Frank Hamer. Woody Harrelson offers the comic relief as Maney Gault. This is a much-needed comic relief at that! The film would be too heavy-handed and not nearly as effective in delivering the message otherwise.

I am a firm believer that The Highwaymen is a strong companion to the 1967 classic Bonnie and Clyde, but it by no means is going to be a critical masterpiece celebrated for years to come. It does offer some rather exciting scenes, and it does a good job of pointing out how Bonnie and Clyde are wrong in their actions.

There are some parts to the film that got a little too much attention, which gave a bit of a disjointed action. There is one side of the film that is from Governor Miriam A. Ferguson’s perspective.

Ferguson is played masterfully by the great Kathy Bates. She is not the issue though. I would say her part of the story is an issue though. Hancock jumps between her political storyline and the actual search for Bonnie and Clyde with Hamer and Gault.

The Ferguson storyline could be a film by itself. By jumping to the Ferguson story, the viewer gets some unnecessary views of the political drama of hiring the retired Texas Rangers. The political aspect would probably work better as its own film instead of being thrown in with the rest of The Highwaymen.

The Highwaymen offers a different view of the atrocities performed by Bonnie and Clyde. Where their exploits are often idealized and remembered as a Robin Hood act, The Highwaymen offers the perspective of how what they were doing was wrong. The public love was really unwarranted.

Despite that people saw them as representing an underrepresented marginalized group, they still “shot a gas attendant in the face over 10 cents.” Their actions should not be romanticized literally at all. Despite that, the film does have some pacing issues that should either be not included or expanded on.

For these reasons, I give The Highwaymen 3 ½ out of 5 stars.

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