The Highwaymen

 

starstarstar

 


Two world-weary lawmen don their fedoras and holsters to embark on one last pursuit in John Lee Hancock’s handsome if plodding true-life period drama.

 

The Highwaymen

After the fact: Woody Harrelson, Kevin Costner and Thomas Mann

  

In 1934, the highways of America cut through a different landscape. Here there were straight-arrow dirt tracks that linked one vacant lot state to the next. There were no fast-food joints, strip malls or mushrooming identikit suburbs. These highways were patrolled by rangers in fedoras, ties and three-piece suits, who looked more like government agents than the gunslingers of yore. Yet, ill-dressed as they were for the heat and the dust of the open road, they were fighting a new kind of outlaw: bank robbers with sub-machine guns. Former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer was past his prime when he was offered $130 a month to come out of retirement. But the assignment was too tempting an offer to forgo: to hunt down and kill Bonnie and Clyde.

 

As Frank Hamer, Kevin Costner continues a long-standing cinematic tradition of the ageing lawman drawing on years of experience to compensate for his diminishing stamina: Gary Cooper in High Noon (1952), John Wayne in True Grit (1969), Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven (1992)… Costner’s Texas Ranger is a re-working of the Prohibition agent he played in The Untouchables (1987), right down to the suit and the way he hoists a shotgun – an Eliot Ness with a potbelly and shortness of breath. He’s in good company with Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson), his former partner who long ago traded in his badge for the bottle. But times are hard and both grizzled veterans could do with a little extra cash.

 

There’s a nice understated camaraderie between the two actors, in roles originally pencilled in for Newman and Redford, which shows just how long this project has been on the drawing board. Costner certainly brings gravitas to his part, a world-weary tenor that reflects the mood of the film. Costner has never been a wildly exciting actor and like the film’s director, John Lee Hancock, he has proved more solid and reliable than anything aspiring to greatness. Hancock has been responsible for some high-profile projects – The Blind Side, Saving Mr Banks, The Founder – films more respected than remembered. The Highwaymen is unlikely to elevate his profile. It’s a character piece, boasting creditable dialogue as well as meticulous production design, cinematography and performances, but nothing really to shout about.

 

What’s interesting is the mythos generated by the desperadoes in the lawmen’s’ sights, cold-blooded killers who nevertheless generated a Robin Hood fan base. Bonnie Parker’s trademark beret and pencil skirt sparked a fashion trend, while the couple themselves were mobbed in the streets like pop stars. But here we see less of the criminal icons than the carnage they left in their wake, particularly Bonnie’s predilection for shooting her grounded victims in the face. Thus, The Highwaymen is a hard-edged film, an art-house wannabe which brooks no idolatry. But it lacks the raw excitement of Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde (1967), its worthiness something to be revered and admired after the fact.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Kevin Costner, Woody Harrelson, John Carroll Lynch, Thomas Mann, Kim Dickens, W. Earl Brown, William Sadler, Kathy Bates, David Furr, Josh Caras, Emily Brobst, Edward Bossert, Isabella Gaspersz.

 

Dir John Lee Hancock, Pro Casey Silver, Ex Pro Woody Harrelson and Kevin Costner, Screenplay John Fusco, Ph John Schwartzman, Pro Des Michael Corenblith, Ed Robert Frazen, Music Thomas Newman, Costumes Daniel Orlandi.

 

Casey Silver Productions-Netflix Services.

131 mins. USA. 2019. Rel: 29 March 2019. Cert. 15.